As one of our dedicated volunteers lays down her tools we talk to Dr Emma Sheehy, Eradication Scientific Lead for our north east project region, about why volunteers make such a difference to the work she and her team are undertaking, and we hear from Janice about what she got up to and loved most about volunteering with SSRS.
“The work that we do in the north east has evolved over the last 2-3 years, as we inch ever closer towards our goal of eradication of grey squirrels from Aberdeen. In the first 10+ years of the project we relied on a team of staff to carry out the majority of work on the ground, with volunteers contributing to an annual spring survey which involved 4 feeder visits over a 6 week period. All other fieldwork was conducted by staff. However, in more recent times, as grey squirrel density continues to drop – recently quite dramatically – in order to continue to remove grey squirrels at a rate exceeding their ability to reproduce, essentially, the north east team need to be “everywhere at once”! In order to achieve this, over the last two and a half years we have recruited around 60 volunteers, who take part in our “Rapid Response Monitoring”, which are fortnightly feeder surveys all over Aberdeen city, and in the south of the region (to prevent immigration from Angus). This amounts to roughly 27 surveys per year, per volunteer, which is no small undertaking! In 2022 the north east team carried out more than 7000 feeder checks, the majority of which were carried out by volunteers. These volunteer surveys are at the very core of our operations at this stage in the eradication project, and the north east team would not have made the significant progress we have made in recent times without our dedicated volunteers!”
“One such volunteer, who was amongst the very first to sign up for our “Rapid Response Monitoring” in Aberdeen City, is Janice Drew. Janice started out surveying at Straloch, then took on not one but two surveys in the city parks and in the Bucksburn/Stoneywood area. During her time as a volunteer, Janice collected the first hair samples of red squirrels from both Victoria and Westburn Parks, and by keeping a close eye on the neighbourhood, has reported sightings that have helped us to remove grey squirrels that might otherwise have gone undetected. Janice is a true outdoor enthusiast, and could be seen doing her feeder surveys on foot, by bike, and sometimes with her guide dog puppy in training, “Simon”. We are absolutely gutted to be saying goodbye to Janice as she moves to pastures new, but we know that she will continue to make a difference wherever she is. So, to Janice, thank you for more than two years volunteering for Aberdeen’s red squirrels, and farewell, you will be sadly missed! And a big thanks as always goes out to our army of volunteers in the north east, both in the city and in the south of the region. We applaud you, and we would not be where we are without you.”
“My “Rapid Response Monitoring” journey commenced with an introduction to the Straloch feeder route and collecting “stickies” with Portia as my guide. Despite the cold wet January day, it was a joy to hit the muddy track, welly booted and have a new focus following easing of the Covid pandemic lockdown. I observed with wonder as Straloch transformed through the seasons, emerging as my own little local wildlife haven. Tracks in the snow revealed roe deer, badgers and pine marten shared my feeder route, with deer often observed. Red squirrels and pine marten were in residence, evidenced by their hair samples on feeder stickies. I even spotted red squirrel occasionally, flitting between trees, chirping in annoyance at my intrusions! Various butterfly species emerged in the undisturbed woodland and hay meadows during summer.…far more than I record on my butterfly transect! Sadly, visits ceased as storm Arwen decimated Straloch woods.”
“However, as Emma points out we need to be “everywhere at once”. I was rapidly redeployed to Victoria and Westburn parks and Bucksburn/Stoneywood. The surprise and delight in finding red squirrel hair samples in Victoria Park on my first visit and the novel experience of observing “park life” gave me a new appreciation of Aberdeen’s city parks. The Bucksburn/Stoneywood a “suburban route” provided a different vibe. This presented some tricky access issues, especially in summer. A pair of secateurs was handy for the brambles, nettles and myriad plant life that emerges where people don’t routinely tread! My trusty (pesky) guide dog pup, Simon, accompanied me on the new feeder rounds becoming adept at coping with the different environments. He learned patience waiting at feeders. Was taught not to steal the squirrel bait peanuts and corn! And that he could watch, but not join in, with the other dogs playing in the park. His confidence and trust were also tested on our suburban route….clambering over walls, over fences and through dense undergrowth. All a challenge for a young pup, but I am convinced that it contributed to the confident youngster he is now with his professional trainer. So, I am back on my bike doing feeder routes solo. As I move to pastures new, I look back fondly on my experience with SSRS. It has been rewarding in so many ways and a privilege to be part of the well organised and dedicated squirrel squad here in the north east.”
If you are interested in assisting in red squirrel conservation activities in your local area, there are lots of ways to get involved!
Join a volunteer Red Squirrel Group:
There are 18 of these in South Scotland and 1 in Fife. They are always looking for volunteers to join and help with a variety of roles, including grey squirrel monitoring and control. Get in touch with your local group here: https://bit.ly/3OoRt9S
We are currently specifically advertising for volunteer grey squirrel dispatchers for the Annandale, Castle Douglas and Solway Forest Red Squirrel Groups. We are looking for people who are local to these areas, enthusiastic about protecting red squirrels, with training or experience in humane animal dispatch. You can find out more and apply here: https://bit.ly/3MBi4z4
Become a dispatcher in the Argyll, Trossachs or Stirlingshire:
We are currently looking for volunteer Grey Squirrel Dispatchers in this area, where we are working to prevent invasive non-native grey squirrels from replacing native reds north of the Highland Line. The work is essential to helping us achieve our goals, providing a much-needed dispatcher service for volunteers on our trap loan scheme.
We are looking for people who are living locally, enthusiastic about protecting red squirrels, with training or experience in humane animal dispatch. You can find out more and apply here: https://bit.ly/3MBi4z4