Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is urging the public to be on the lookout as recent grey squirrel sightings have been reported in crucial areas for red squirrel conservation.
The project has received reports of recent grey squirrel activity around both Ellon and St Cyrus, prompting a call for locals to record sightings of both red and grey squirrels online.
The grey squirrel is an invasive species that was introduced to Britain from North America. They out-compete red squirrels for food and living space and some also carry squirrelpox, a virus that doesn’t harm grey squirrels but is deadly to reds.
Grey squirrels were first introduced to Aberdeen in the 1970s, rapidly spreading throughout the city and into surrounding Aberdeenshire, causing the region’s red squirrel populations to decline rapidly.
Years of grey squirrel control work carried out by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has already removed grey squirrels from much of Aberdeenshire, allowing red squirrels to return to places such as Ellon and even some parts of Aberdeen. A 2017 survey conducted by the project indicated that red squirrel populations in the North East have increased, while remaining stable elsewhere in the country.
The reason for the recent increase in grey squirrel sightings in Aberdeenshire is unclear but may be due to young grey squirrels from this year’s breeding season spreading out to look for new habitat.
Dr Gwen Maggs, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Conservation Officer for North East Scotland said:
“This is the first time grey squirrels have been reported in the Ellon area for a number of years, and there have also been two sightings of grey squirrels in the St Cyrus area in recent days.
St Cyrus, and the Mearns area as a whole, sits in a crucial gap between the grey squirrel population south of the Highland Line and the isolated pocket of grey squirrels in Aberdeen. Squirrelpox is not currently a threat in Aberdeenshire, however this could change if the gap between the two grey squirrel populations closes and they become able to breed.
“However, this is not the first time greys have been seen in these areas, and there is no cause to panic. Equally, complacency is not an option and we would like the public’s help to build a better picture of the local situation so that we can focus our work and ensure the grey squirrels are removed to protect the well-established red squirrel population in the region.”
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, the project is working to reduce grey squirrel numbers in the region, with the aim of removing them completely.
Members of the public are being asked to help by reporting any squirrel sightings (red and grey) on the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels website, scottishsquirrels.org.uk.
The project is also developing a Mearns Red Squirrel Community Group. Anyone interested in getting involved with red squirrel conservation work across the Mearns area can contact Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels at firstname.lastname@example.org.