News: Over £1M in new funding awarded to aid red squirrel recovery in Scotland

Over £1m in new funding has been announced to aid red squirrel conservation efforts in key areas across Scotland for the next two years. A total grant of £1,052,796 has been awarded by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, which supports the restoration of wildlife and habitats across the country.

The new funds will support the Scottish Wildlife Trust led Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project to deliver vital conservation work on the ground and develop new and innovative techniques to halt red squirrel declines, reinforce protections for the core red only populations of the Highlands, and progress long-term aims for population expansion in the North East and Central Lowlands of Scotland.

SSRS has been working since 2009 to protect Scotland’s iconic red squirrels, whose populations are under threat from the spread of the invasive non-native grey squirrel. Greys outcompete red squirrels for food and living space and can carry the squirrelpox virus which does not harm them but is deadly to reds. Greys were first introduced to the UK from North America by the Victorians and have since displaced red squirrels in most of England and Wales, with more than 75% of the UK’s total remaining population residing in Scotland today.

Over the next two years the new funding will enable the creation of new community focused rapid response monitoring and control networks across the northern Central Lowlands, made possible by increased year-round professional grey squirrel control activities in the area. This will pave the way for a long-term southward shift of the current “Highland Line Control Zone” – the 10km zone stretching from Balloch to Montrose and buffering the diagonal Highland Boundary Fault Line, where Scotland’s Highland red-only squirrel population intersects with the most northly reaches of grey squirrels incurring from the Lowlands. These new networks will also help facilitate the project’s aim to eradicate greys from the islands of Loch Lomond with the support of partners and landowners and additional funding from the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.

(c) Raymond Leinster

The £1m NRF grant will also facilitate concerted efforts to eradicate the last remaining isolated population of grey squirrels from North East Scotland, separated geographically from the rest of Scotland’s grey squirrels. If successful, conservation activities here could result in the first mainland urban eradication of an invasive mammal worldwide. Innovative methodologies and adaptive new strategies will be deployed to aid in this ambitious goal, including the use of conservation detection dogs to survey for grey squirrel presence, and a new collaboration with the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s WildGenes lab at Edinburgh Zoo to identify individual grey squirrels, improve trapping efficacy, and provide estimates of numbers remaining in Aberdeen.

Programme Manager Nicole Still said:

“We are delighted to receive this new funding, which represents the next step in the journey towards integrating sustainable long-term red squirrel recovery in Scotland. Our hopes and aims for next phase are ambitious, but ones that we absolutely can realise with increased landscape-scale investment from partners, stakeholders, landowners, and local community involvement. We are incredibly grateful to everyone already involved in red squirrel conservation across the country and look forward to bringing more people and organisations onboard with this important and vital work.”

Dr Katherine Leys, NatureScot’s Head of Biodiversity and Geodiversity, said:

“Scotland’s red squirrels are one of our well-loved symbols of nature, but they are threatened by non-native grey squirrels. This funding from the Nature Restoration Fund will help to protect the highland population above the boundary fault. Through the fund, we support vital work to restore Scotland’s species and habitats. Now more than ever, we need nature-based solutions to the climate-nature crises. It’s projects like this that can really help to stop biodiversity loss and enable us to move towards a nature-rich, net-zero future for everyone in Scotland.”

Additionally, separate limited funding from SSRS partners NatureScot and Forestry and Land Scotland has been secured to continue professional grey squirrel control in several target areas within the Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation of South Scotland until September 2024.

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and supported by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players, until 31st March. From 1st April it will be supported by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot.

For further information please contact Katie Berry,, 0131 312 4719

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