Red squirrels have come on leaps and bounds on the Argaty Estate near Doune in Stirling. In today’s guest blog, Tom Bowser of Argaty Red Kites reflects on a journey of red squirrel recovery and some unforgettable milestone moments.
I can still remember my first childhood sighting of a red squirrel on Argaty. It was a summer’s day in the early 1990s, and I was riding my bike along the rutted, potholed track that serves as the main road through our family farm. Stopping for a drink of water I looked across the adjacent field when an unexpected movement caught my eye. Standing atop a nearby gatepost was a red squirrel. Tail twitching, eyes unblinking it stared at me and I stared back. We held each other’s gaze for several seconds before the tiny creature turned tail and fled, springing through the grass and disappearing into the woods beyond. I turned too and sped home to tell my parents what I’d just seen.
I still treasure that memory. It was one of only two red squirrel sightings I had in eighteen years growing up on our Stirlingshire farm. By the time I left for university grey squirrels had all but taken over the woods in this part of Scotland. Those two reds, glimpsed fleetingly in those far-off days, may have been two of the last survivors in these parts.
How different our world is now. Reds are back in force on Argaty. Today we run two squirrel photography hides and are in the process of building a third. I seldom go twenty-four hours without seeing a squirrel here and when I do, something feels missing from the day. Last year one particularly brazen animal scaled the side of our house and began building a drey between the downpipe and the wall. This winter another was seen feeding on peanuts beside our visitor centre, several hundred metres from the nearest tree. They are regularly seen in our neighbours’ gardens too, pilfering the nuts left out for the birds. Truly, theirs has been the most remarkable recovery.
Their comeback is not limited to our estate. Reds are now present across all of the surrounding countryside. Indeed, one morning whilst driving into Doune, our nearest village, one came bounding across the road and leapt into the children’s playpark.
We have people to thank for this remarkable revival. Thanks to years of control carried out on this and other neighbouring estates, grey squirrels are being pushed out of this area. With greys gone, reds are moving south, from their heartlands further north, and recolonising this part of Scotland. In these troubled times, when so much of our native wildlife is in steep decline, red squirrels in central Scotland present a rare success story.
Once I finish writing this blog I will shut the computer down and head to the woods to feed our squirrels. If none are around I will linger a few minutes, as I do every day, and wait for the first one to come in. And as I stand watching it I will remember the excitement of that first squirrel sighting and wonder what my ten-year old self would say if he were told that these brilliant creatures would return in such numbers to his home. Would he have believed it? I very much doubt it.