Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels

In your area

Saving the red squirrel across Scotland

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, which includes the earlier "Red Squirrels in South Scotland" project, is the first nationally coordinated attempt to save Britain’s only native squirrel species, the red squirrel. Below you can find out more about what the project is doing in your area and meet the team behind the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project.

North East Scotland

Grey squirrels were introduced to the City of Aberdeen in the 1970s. From here they expanded their populations and began spreading into rural areas, posing a threat to red squirrels in Aberdeenshire and to the contiguous red squirrel populations in Moray and the Highlands. Fortunately, these animals do not carry squirrelpox and are currently separated by tens of kilometres of landscape from the Central Lowlands populations.

In North East Scotland, the aim has been to reverse the spread of grey squirrels in rural Aberdeenshire and reduce grey squirrel numbers in city areas to prevent their populations expanding into Aberdeenshire.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels has established a red squirrel protection network consisting of grey squirrel control staff, landowners controlling grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, and volunteers delivering co-ordinated and targeted landscape-scale trapping. Below is a list of some of the project’s achievements in the area so far:

  • Declining grey squirrel numbers - Evidence from our grey squirrel trapping has shown a clear decline in grey squirrel populations across the area, almost to zero in the areas trapped for longest
  • Red squirrel recovery - We have seen a steadily increasing red squirrel presence in our study area, from major city parks to people’s back gardens
  • Landowner support - We have assisted 11 landowners to access SRDP funding contracts to support grey squirrel control
  • Trap-loan scheme - To date more than 300 households have participated in our innovative trap-loan scheme and, year-on-year, Aberdeen's residents account for a significant proportion of our grey squirrel captures. At any given time, between 40 and 50 traps are set in gardens across the city
  • Annual squirrel surveys - We have developed and delivered survey and monitoring across Aberdeenshire, with a system of data collection, collation, analysis, reporting and feedback established to assess the efficacy of our work. We have 38 volunteers actively involved in delivering our annual presence / absence surveys each spring
  • Volunteer effort - We currently have 13 volunteers who are trained in safe and humane trapping and despatch techniques working on behalf of the project
  • Award winners - In November 2014, the project was joint winner (alongside our partners Aberdeen City Council) in the coveted ‘Species Champion’ category at the Nature of Scotland Awards. The award recognised the project's successful red squirrel conservation work in Aberdeen and surrounding areas

The project is currently focused on reducing grey squirrel numbers towards an eventual level of virtually zero throughout Aberdeen city and Aberdeenshire. We are using intensive survey and monitoring twice a year at more than 270 sites to detect remnant populations of grey squirrels that have hitherto gone undetected, and are developing innovative approaches to removing these animals in public areas.

If successful, we hope to reach a point where minimal monitoring and responsive control will be all that is required to keep grey squirrels under control in this area.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is extremely grateful for the assistance of a wide range of supporters and volunteers, all helping to protect the UK's only native squirrel species.

Landowners in certain areas can control grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, or join the project’s trap-loan scheme, which is also an option for individuals willing to trap in their own neighbourhood or garden. Woodland owners, meanwhile, can adjust the management of their woods to benefit red squirrels. Contact your nearest Project Officer for more information.

If you would like to volunteer, our spring squirrel surveys are a great place to start, helping assess the effectiveness of our targeted grey squirrel control activity and build up a record of our project's success. You can also make a huge difference by reporting your squirrel sightings - both red and grey - or by making a donation to the project.

Contact a Project Officer Report a squirrel sighting Make a donation

Tayside

Tayside is still home to widespread red squirrel populations. However, grey squirrels began to spread from Perth and the Central Belt in the 1980s and red squirrels have slowly disappeared from some areas - particularly around towns - as a result. Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels' work over recent years has started to reverse this trend but without continued action red squirrels will again start to disappear, as they have done in the Central Belt.

In order to prevent grey squirrel spread northwards from the Central Lowlands into red-only areas of highland Scotland, Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels has established a red squirrel protection network consisting of grey squirrel control staff, landowners controlling grey squirrels under SRDP funding and volunteers, delivering co-ordinated and targeted landscape-scale trapping. Below is a list of some of the project’s achievements in the area so far:

  • Halting the spread of grey squirrels - We have seen no further spread of grey squirrels into northwards into highland Scotland. Unfortunately grey squirrels are still spreading northwards in eastern Angus towards the border with Aberdeenshire, so we need to make sure our work is sustained over the long term
  • Red squirrel recovery - Analysis of trapping results has shown both a decline in grey squirrel numbers in many parts of the region (almost to zero in some places) and the beginnings of a recovery in red squirrel populations in many areas
  • Landowner support - We have assisted 58 landowners to access SRDP funding contracts to support grey squirrel control. Eight more landowners and 37 individuals are currently trapping voluntarily under the SSRS trap-loan scheme, in which traps are loaned and training is given to volunteers. Many more landowners have assisted in this scheme over the course of the project, while awaiting the start of their SRDP contracts
  • Annual squirrel surveys - With the help of 29 survey volunteers, we have carried out annual presence / absence surveys across Tayside to assess the changes in distributions of the two squirrel species brought about by the project's grey squirrel control work
  • Squirrelpox testing - Since 2012 we have carried out annual blood-sampling of grey squirrels across the region to test for squirrelpox antibodies, as part of a national squirrelpox monitoring scheme designed to detect any spread in the disease

In Tayside, Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels aims to prevent grey squirrels spreading into new areas from parts of Perthshire and Angus. A continued spread of grey squirrels would not only threaten red squirrels in Tayside itself but also, in the longer-term, those in Aberdeenshire, Argyll and the Highlands.

The upland scenery of the north part of Tayside - with its large unforested areas - should help the project target grey squirrel control and prevent greys from becoming established north of the lowland areas of Strathearn and Strathmore.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is continuing to support its landowner partners under SRDP contracts and the trap-loan scheme to deliver strategic, co-ordinated red squirrel protection via grey squirrel control. This includes helping landowners access funding under SRDP, including those reaching the end of their first five-year contract.

The project continues to employ its own personnel to trap in forested areas (in partnership with regional Forest Enterprise) and in areas that cannot be covered by landowners. The Project Officer is also working hard to encourage more communities and individuals to actively undertake practical red squirrel conservation work, from grey squirrel control to distribution monitoring.

We are also working with scientists from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies to model red and grey squirrel populations and the transmission of squirrelpox. It is hoped that this mathematical approach will help us predict what level of annual control will be necessary in the future to prevent squirrelpox from crossing northwards over the Highland Line into red-only populations.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is extremely grateful for the assistance of a wide range of supporters and volunteers, all helping to protect the UK's only native squirrel species.

Landowners in certain areas can control grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, or join the project’s trap-loan scheme, which is also an option for individuals willing to trap in their own neighbourhood or garden. Woodland owners, meanwhile, can adjust the management of their woods to benefit red squirrels. Contact your nearest Project Officer for more information.

If you would like to volunteer, our spring squirrel surveys are a great place to start, helping assess the effectiveness of our targeted grey squirrel control activity and build up a record of our project's success. You can also make a huge difference by reporting your squirrel sightings - both red and grey - or by making a donation to the project.

Contact a Project Officer Report a squirrel sighting Make a donation

Argyll, The Trossachs and Stirling

Red squirrels are still abundant in the forests of the west of Scotland. However, grey squirrels still pose a risk of spreading: northwards from the Central Belt (from the Dumbarton to the Strathblane area), westwards from Stirling towards Aberfoyle and Callander, and westwards from Comrie towards St. Fillans.

The main threat to the red squirrels of Argyll is from greys dispersing northwards along east Loch Long or westwards from west Loch Lomond via the narrow pass at Tarbet. The occasional grey squirrel has made it through to Arrochar and beyond to Glen Croe and, if this were allowed to continue, some of Scotland’s major red squirrel populations would be at risk.

At the northern end of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, a continued spread northwards could potentially threaten red squirrels in the southern highlands. However, grey squirrels have disappeared from the Strathyre pass between Callander and Lochearnhead, possibly due to the increase in the local pine marten population, which appears to have displaced greys and allowed red squirrels to recolonise.

Complete removal of grey squirrels from the Central Lowlands is not a practical option. The aim here is containment of the grey squirrel population to prevent further inroads being made on Scotland’s core red squirrel populations north of the 'red squirrel protection line', running roughly along the Highland Line where lowland Scotland abuts the mountainous north of Scotland – in this region running through the southern end of Loch Lomond.

Working in partnership with the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park since April 2010, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has set up a red squirrel protection network of landowners controlling grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) funding, backed by the project’s own seasonal control staff and a number of trained volunteer trappers. Below is a list of some of the project’s achievements in the area so far:

  • Preventing the spread of grey squirrels - We have seen no further spread of grey squirrels northward or westwards from the National Park area
  • Red squirrel recovery - Analysis of trapping results has shown early signs of both a decline in grey squirrel numbers and the beginnings of a recovery in red squirrel populations in many areas
  • Landowner support - We have assisted 20 landowners to access SRDP funding contracts to support grey squirrel control
  • Trap-loan scheme - 42 more landowners and 7 individuals are currently trapping voluntarily under the SSRS trap-loan scheme, in which traps are loaned and training is given to volunteers. Many more landowners have assisted in this scheme over the course of the project, while awaiting the start of their SRDP contracts
  • Annual squirrel surveys - With the help of 36 survey volunteers, we have carried out 6 annual presence / absence surveys across Argyll and the Trossachs to assess the changes in distributions of the two squirrel species brought about by the project’s grey squirrel control work
  • Squirrelpox testing - Since 2012, we have carried out annual blood-sampling of grey squirrels across the region to test for squirrelpox antibodies, as part of a national squirrelpox monitoring scheme designed to detect any spread in the disease

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is continuing to support its landowner partners under Scottish Rural Development Programme contracts and the trap-loan scheme to deliver strategic, co-ordinated grey squirrel control.

The project continues to employ its own seasonal control officer to trap in areas that cannot be covered by landowners, and carries out squirrelpox sampling in targeted parts of the region.

Alongside this, the project also works closely with the general public to encourage more communities and individuals to actively undertake practical red squirrel conservation work.

In the future, we may be faced with squirrelpox in the Central Lowlands’ grey squirrel populations and it will be imperative that grey squirrel densities along the Highland Line are kept to a sufficiently low level, ensuring that there is insufficient circulating disease to be readily transmitted to neighbouring red squirrels.

Where red squirrels do succumb locally to the disease, we need to prevent grey squirrels from colonising the vacant habitat, so that it remains available for red squirrels to recolonise once the disease has burnt out.

Evidence from our work in southern Scotland has shown that this approach can be successful in allowing the persistence of red squirrels, whose populations can go on to thrive despite the presence of the squirrelpox disease (including outbreaks of disease in reds).

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is extremely grateful for the assistance of a wide range of supporters and volunteers, all helping to protect the UK's only native squirrel species.

Landowners in certain areas can control grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, or join the project’s trap-loan scheme, which is also an option for individuals willing to trap in their own neighbourhood or garden. Woodland owners, meanwhile, can adjust the management of their woods to benefit red squirrels. Contact your nearest Project Officer for more information.

If you would like to volunteer, our spring squirrel surveys are a great place to start, helping assess the effectiveness of our targeted grey squirrel control activity and build up a record of our project's success. You can also make a huge difference by reporting your squirrel sightings - both red and grey - or by making a donation to the project.

Contact a Project Officer Report a squirrel sighting Make a donation

South Scotland

In southern Scotland grey squirrels have spread southwards from the Central Belt and replaced red squirrels in many areas (Lothians, Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, North and East Ayrshire and parts of the Scottish Borders). However, red squirrels are still widespread across the western Scottish Borders, Dumfriesshire and Galloway, and are contiguous with the red squirrel populations of northern England.

In 2001 grey squirrels from Cumbria spread into Dumfriesshire, and in 2005 it was discovered that these new arrivals were carrying the deadly squirrelpox disease – which had already decimated the red squirrels of Cumbria.

From 2005 the conservation aim for red squirrels in South Scotland was focused on preventing the further spread of squirrelpox through the existing grey squirrel populations towards the Central Lowlands. Initially the disease was very restricted in geographical distribution, such that it was considered worth attempting to contain the disease spread. This work, at first undertaken by the Red Squirrels in South Scotland project and from 2012 by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, proved very challenging and increasingly costly.

The spread of squirrelpox virus across South Scotland was shown to have been significantly slowed by the grey squirrel control undertaken by projects in South Scotland and it has not yet reached the grey squirrel populations of the Central Belt. However, complete containment has proved difficult and the geographic range covered by the disease continues to slowly expand. Below is a list of some of the project’s achievements in the area so far:

  • Slowing the spread of squirrelpox - Our work has significantly slowed the rate of spread of squirrelpox in Scotland, according to squirrelpox and population modelling work by scientists commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage. This has bought us more time to establish adequate protection for red squirrels further north
  • Red squirrel recovery - More importantly, our co-ordinated, landscape–scale control efforts have enabled red squirrels to persist in many areas where grey squirrels have very high levels of squirrelpox present, even in those cases where red squirrels have previously suffered outbreaks of the disease. Not only have red squirrel populations recovered, the evidence shows that they are thriving, spreading and being seen in places where they have not been seen for decades.
  • Declining grey squirrel numbers - Simple analysis of trapping results has shown an overall decline in grey squirrel numbers across the region (almost to zero in places) and red squirrel recovery beginning in many areas.
  • Landowner support - We have helped over 100 landowners access SRDP funding to support our grey squirrel control efforts in the south
  • Trap-loan scheme - 18 more landowners and over 170 individuals are currently trapping voluntarily under Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels’ trap-loan scheme, in which traps are loaned and training is given to volunteers. Many more landowners have assisted in this scheme over the course of the project, while awaiting the start of their SRDP contracts
  • Annual squirrel surveys - With the help of 89 survey volunteers, we have carried out annual presence / absence surveys across the Central Lowlands to assess the changes in distributions of the two squirrel species brought about by the project’s grey squirrel control work
  • Squirrelpox testing - From 2005 we carried out blood-sampling of grey squirrels across the whole area in order to test for squirrelpox antibodies and to track the spread of the disease. In 2012 we widened the area monitored for squirrelpox, establishing a national squirrelpox monitoring scheme to cover the whole range of the grey squirrel in Scotland.

Our current work involves a radical change of strategy in southern Scotland. Instead of trying to prevent the spread of the disease northwards, we have identified eight Priority Areas for Red squirrel Conservation (PARCs), where previous control works have been shown to have sustained red squirrel populations across the landscape. These areas have existing networks of landowners trapping under SRDP and are focused on human settlements where potential volunteers may be sourced.

We aim to establish a level of ongoing grey squirrel control that will keep grey squirrel densities low enough to significantly reduce the risk of squirrelpox transmission to local red squirrels within PARCs. Because we now know that squirrelpox is likely to be present in all grey squirrel populations in South Scotland, we no longer routinely test grey squirrels in the region for presence of antibodies to the disease. Our emphasis now is on keeping the incidence of this virulent disease out of the priority red squirrel populations.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels will prioritise local communities and individuals in the first five PARCs to help them actively engage in red squirrel conservation. By providing support and training, it is hoped that these groups will be able to carry out control, surveying and monitoring work more independently in the future.

The project is also supporting landowners currently trapping under SRDP in the PARCs to continue to access this funding, as well as helping other landowners submit applications for the grant.

Alongside this, we will set up additional surveys in the PARCs to help us to assess how effective our control work is in protecting the resident red squirrels, and we will also carry out annual presence / absence surveys right across southern Scotland to determine broader trends in the distribution of the two squirrel species.

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is extremely grateful for the assistance of a wide range of supporters and volunteers, all helping to protect the UK's only native squirrel species.

Landowners in certain areas can control grey squirrels under Scottish Rural Development Programme funding, or join the project’s trap-loan scheme, which is also an option for individuals willing to trap in their own neighbourhood or garden. Woodland owners, meanwhile, can adjust the management of their woods to benefit red squirrels. Contact your nearest Conservation Officer for more information.

If you would like to volunteer, our spring squirrel surveys are a great place to start, helping assess the effectiveness of our targeted grey squirrel control activity and build up a record of our project's success. You can also make a huge difference by reporting your squirrel sightings - both red and grey - or by making a donation to the project.

Contact a Project Officer Report a squirrel sighting Make a donation

Meet the team

With operations covering South and South West Scotland, Tayside and the North East, the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project team is working hard to protect Scotland's only native squirrel species. You can find out more about each member of the team below, including what they are up to in each geographical area.

Role: Project Manager
Area covered: Nationwide
Joined project: 2008
Email: mtonkin@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Mel has been involved with red squirrel conservation for nearly 40 years and has led the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project since its inception in 2008. Her role as Project Manager involves setting the strategic direction of the project and supporting a nationwide team of Project Officers, Grey Squirrel Control Officers, surveyors and volunteers.

Role: Conservation Officer
Area covered: North East Scotland
Joined project: 2016
Email: mnuttall@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Matt joined Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels as a Project Officer in 2016 after running a variety of volunteer-assisted wildlife surveys in Cambodia. Reds are doing well in the north east and populations are expanding back into Aberdeen itself. Detailed monitoring of reds and greys is required, with the results of this feeding into the work of the Grey Squirrel Control Officers hard at work in and around Aberdeen.

Role: Conservation Officer
Area covered: Tayside
Joined project: 2015
Email: cmcinroy@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

In 2015 Clare took over from the legendary Ken Neil, who had been with Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels since 2008. She had previously been both a volunteer for the project and staff, as the Project Officer for Argyll, the Trossachs and Stirling. Dundee born with a good knowledge of the area, she is continuing to support the conservation efforts of over 70 estates in her new patch. Clare is pleased to have witnessed positive results, helped by a team of seasonal Grey Squirrel Control Officers and a number of enthusiastic volunteers. 

Role: Conservation Officer
Area covered: Argyll, the Trossachs & Stirling
Joined project: 2016
Email: mcollis@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk 

Mary-Anne joined the project in 2016 after bouncing around the globe working on a variety of small mammal and bird conservation projects. She is originally from London and is working with all the project partners in the Loch Lomond National Park to protect the healthy red squirrel populations in Argyll, the Trossachs and the Western Highlands. Mary-Anne is putting her small mammal conservation knowledge to use, focusing on preventing grey squirrels heading north towards the Highland Line. 

Role: Conservation Officer
Area covered: Scottish Borders
Joined project: 2015
Email: aseagrave@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Alexa has been involved in conservation for over 10 years as a countryside ranger, mainly focusing on public engagement and education. She is working closely with landowners and individuals to coordinate grey squirrel control within Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation (PARCs) in the Scottish Borders. She is also taking the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels stand to events across the region to promote the project and encourage as many people as possible to get involved with protecting their local red squirrels.

Role: Conservation OfficerDr Stephanie Johnstone
Area covered: Dumfries & Galloway and adjacent parts of South and East Ayrshire
Joined project: 2017
Email: sjohnstone@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Dr Johnstone has been working in the environment industry for 17 years, specialising in mammal research and conservation. Originally from Australia, she moved to Scotland ten years ago and from 2007 to 2011 worked for the ‘Red Squirrels in South Scotland’ project. Her current role focuses on supporting land owners and volunteers in their red squirrel conservation activities, helping to ensure we achieve a coordinated, landscape-scale approach.    

Role: Community Engagement Officer for South Scotland
Area covered: Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway and adjacent parts of South and East Ayrshire
Joined project: 2017
Email: egunby@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Liz has a background in education and community development, and her mission is to engage with local communities and recruit new volunteers across South Scotland, in areas where red squirrels are in most need of our help. She is helping to develop Red Squirrel Networks across the region, and provide them with the training and support they need.

Role: Communications and Community Engagement Officer
Area covered: Nationwide
Joined project: 2017
Email: ghatcher@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Gill has a background in design and wildlife interpretation. She is helping to get the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels message out to as many people as possible through press and social media, as well as supporting the Conservation and Engagement Officers in developing their public engagement activities.

Role: Project Administrator
Area covered: Nationwide
Joined project: 2017
Email: no'donnell@scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk

Neil is a keen bird watcher with extensive experience in administering conservation public engagement. He supports staff and volunteers to make sure they have everything they need to do their vital work. 

Seen a red or grey squirrel recently? Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels needs your help. Please report your squirrel sighting using our dedicated online sightings page. This will help us get a clear picture of red and grey squirrel distribution across Scotland.

This year's sightings

 
 
 

Programme leaders

Scottish Wildlife Trust Forestry Commission Scottish Land and Estates
 
Scottish Natural Heritage Red Squirrel Survival Trust RSPB