Laura Preston, the new Scottish Borders Conservation Officer for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, is calling on locals to help the project by reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels online.
Laura joins Community Engagement Officer Alexa Seagrave in the project’s new regional office near Newton St Boswells. They will be working with landowners and volunteers to protect red squirrels in Scottish Borders priority areas by managing the spread of invasive grey squirrels.
Building up strong networks of volunteers will be essential to ensuring the red squirrel’s long-term survival in the region, and emerging community groups in areas such as Upper Teviotdale & Borthwick Water are already beginning to play a vital role.
The project’s Grey Squirrel Officers are also working on the ground to control grey squirrel numbers in the areas where this action will have a positive impact on red squirrel populations.
One way that everyone can help is to report sightings of both red and grey squirrels on the project website, scottishsquirrels.org.uk.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project Manager said: “Conservationists have been monitoring squirrel populations across Scotland since 2004. Sightings from the public are important because they help us measure the impact of our work and decide where to focus our efforts.
“Our 2018 sightings map currently shows that while there are still places in the Scottish Borders with healthy red squirrel populations, other areas now have grey squirrel sightings only. However, the more sightings we receive the better our understanding will be.”
Grey squirrels are a non-native species that was first introduced to Britain in Victorian times, and they are recognised as the main threat to the red squirrel’s future in Scotland. Larger and more robust, they out-compete native reds for resources.
In the south of Scotland some grey squirrels also carry squirrelpox, a virus that does not affect them but is deadly to reds. Outbreaks can cause the local red squirrel population to crash, but research has shown that keeping grey squirrel numbers sufficiently low can enable reds to bounce back.
Conservation Officer Laura, who previously spent eight years as Ranger at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Falls of Clyde Wildlife Reserve said: “We have a real opportunity to turn the tide and help conserve our red squirrels, but this is only possible with everyone’s involvement. There is a big task ahead of us and I am looking forward to working alongside the rest of the team in helping the red squirrel thrive in the Scottish Borders.”
SSRS is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and made possible thanks to National Lottery players. Anyone can support the project by reporting their sightings of both red and grey squirrels at scottishsquirrels.org.uk. For those who want to take a more active role in the project, volunteer roles include carrying out surveys or helping to control grey squirrels in the project’s priority areas.