An Introduction to Squirrels in Scotland


There are over 200 species of squirrel across the globe, and Scotland is home to just two of them, the Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) and the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Grey squirrels, which are native to North America, were introduced to Britain in 1876, before which it is estimated that there were around 3.5 million native red squirrels. There are now approximately 160,000 native red squirrels in Britain, of which over 75% live in Scotland

Since the introduction of grey squirrels, they have become widespread across Britain due to their ability to adapt to new environments. They have also introduced the squirrel pox virus which, although catastrophic to red squirrels, appears to leave grey squirrels relatively unharmed due to their developed immunity. Grey squirrels are also able to outcompete red squirrels for resources such as food and habitat, in part due to their larger size, making it harder for red squirrels to breed and survive.

As well as the impact of grey squirrels, habitat loss has played a significant role in the decline of red squirrels. Squirrels rely on woodland habitat, and where this is altered, due to development, or change in land use, this can lead to isolated populations of red squirrels, making it harder for them to survive.

Not only do red squirrels serve as the inspiration for many of our favourite childhood stories, they also play a vital role within the ecosystem. Red squirrels play a valuable part in seed dispersal, particularly in coniferous woodland. Although grey squirrels also contribute to seed dispersal, they prefer deciduous woodland where this function is already carried out by birds and other native animals, with whom they compete for food and habitat.

In recent years we have begun to see success in the conservation of red squirrels. Projects such as Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels have worked to monitor squirrel numbers across Scotland, manage the impact of squirrel pox, and work to prevent the spread of grey squirrels. A large part of this success comes down to the crucial role played by volunteers in taking part in volunteer groups, trap loan schemes and reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels. Find out more about how you can be part of the success story here:

Mazz Cummings
SSRS Volunteer
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