For the first time in many years, red squirrels have been spotted at Aberdeen’s James Hutton Institute and near the University of Aberdeen— a promising sign that this charismatic species is making a comeback in the city.
There have been three significant red squirrel sightings in recent weeks: one on the grounds of the James Hutton Institute in the west, and two further sightings near the University of Aberdeen, just north of the city centre. The rare sightings, which were reported to Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, provide further indication that red squirrels are returning to their old strongholds.
The sightings are some of the closest to Aberdeen city centre recorded in recent times, suggesting that red squirrels are gradually making their way back to the city’s parks and gardens after decades of absence.
Red squirrels were once common across Aberdeen. However, they have been replaced by the non-native grey squirrel, which out-competes reds for food and shelter.
Dr. Gwen Maggs, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Conservation Officer for north east Scotland said: “These sightings are fantastic news for the project, which has been continuously working to reduce grey squirrel numbers in the city since 2009. We are beginning to see red squirrel populations establishing themselves in key areas, such as Seaton Park and around the James Hutton Institute, which is enabling individuals to move even further into urban areas. This shows that the control of grey squirrels is enabling red squirrels to recover in Aberdeen. We’ve even had members of the public reporting red squirrels in their back gardens for the first time in as much as 29 years.”
Professor Helaina Black, Ecological Sciences group leader at the James Hutton Institute, said: “Seeing red squirrels back on our Craigiebuckler site is not only great for our staff, visitors and local community who can now enjoy watching the antics of this iconic species but this is also a really positive sign of how local restoration efforts can make a real difference to the global challenge of halting biodiversity losses.”
Professor David Elston, director of Biomathematics & Statistics Scotland (BioSS), first spotted the red squirrel and reported it to Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. He commented: “It’s several months now since I last saw a grey squirrel in the trees outside my office window, and I have heard about recent sightings of red squirrels not too far away.
“But to see a red squirrel on the Hutton site gave a lift to my day, and it would be really exciting if these beautiful animals were to settle in the institute grounds and become a regular sight.”
While three quarters of the UK’s red squirrels are found in Scotland, their numbers have fallen drastically to just 120,000. This is largely due to the spread of the grey squirrel, which was first introduced to Britain from North America in the mid-19th Century.
In the 1970s another group was released in Aberdeen, creating an isolated population that has rapidly spread throughout the city and into surrounding Aberdeenshire.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and made possible thanks to National Lottery players. With the help of a network of dedicated volunteers, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is working to reduce grey squirrel numbers in the region with the aim of removing them completely, allowing native red squirrels to thrive once more.
Members of the public are encouraged to help the project monitor the situation across the country by reporting any squirrel sightings (red and grey) at scottishsquirrels.org.uk