Original Author: Mel Tonkin – SSRS Project Manager
In Spring of 2016 a magnificent 222 tetrads, each with 4 feeder-boxes, were completed across our project areas – that’s 2,664 hair samples! The coverage we achieve with our surveys is in large measure down to the amazing volunteer effort that goes into looking after the boxes and collecting in the hair samples.
As our stalwart volunteer brigade starts on this year’s Spring Surveys, you may not be aware of the stupendous amount of work that goes into setting them up each year. Project Officers start to make the first contact with the previous year’s volunteers from late in December to check availability, then ensuring feeder boxes hair-traps are disinfected and in good repair, procuring replacement boxes, bait and other materials, recruiting new volunteers, assembling volunteer survey packs, obtaining access permissions, delivering survey packs and bait and ensuring all of the volunteers are trained and prepared.
At the end of April, all the samples need to be collected in – not always as straightforward as that sounds – and then laboriously identified under a microscope. The results are entered into a spreadsheet, checked and rechecked, and finally they go to our Data Officer for analysis.
Last year our Project Officer South – Alexa Seagrave – was covering the whole of the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway on her own – as many tetrads as the other three Project Officers put together – so getting the samples in and identified took much longer than usual as Alexa had to work on them in between everything else she does. Things should get better as we go forwards, as we hope to appoint a new Project Officer for the South West in the summer, to take half the work off Alexa’s shoulders.
Last year’s surveys showed us a change in favour of red squirrels since 2015, with red squirrels being more widely detected in all areas. In the surveys in Aberdeenshire and across the Central Lowlands, grey squirrel detection stayed limited. However, in South Scotland we detected a spread of grey squirrels, particularly into Dumfriesshire. This is worrying, although the spread of red squirrels in the area is still good. As we move into the new Heritage Lottery-funded phase of our project , this area will be top of the agenda for working out how we can reverse the spread of greys.
Meanwhile, thanks to all our volunteers who are taking on the surveys this year – we really couldn’t do it without you. I hope the weather is kind and you enjoy the taking part in this great piece of citizen science.
Download the 2016 Survey Report here.