Keeping Squirrelpox at bay to protect north Scotland’s red squirrels
Tayside continues to provide a home for many of Scotland’s red squirrels. However, since the 1980s grey squirrels have spread north from Perth and the Central Belt. Unfortunately, these grey squirrels not only out-compete reds, some also carry the deadly squirrelpox virus. As a result, red squirrels have slowly disappeared from some areas.
Tayside is on the forefront of red squirrel protection in Scotland. Without action, grey squirrels could continue to spread northwards, threatening the healthy red squirrels of the Scottish Highlands. Furthermore, if these grey squirrels were able to connect with the ‘island’ population in Aberdeen, which does not currently carry squirrelpox, the effects could be devastating.
With the help of control staff, landowners and local volunteers, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has started to reverse the trend of decline in Tayside through targeted, landscape-scale control work.
The project is also working with scientists from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies to model 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 areas.
Achievements to date
Halting the spread of grey squirrels – We have seen no further spread of grey squirrels into the Highlands in recent years. Unfortunately grey squirrels are still spreading northwards in eastern Angus towards the border with Aberdeenshire, so there is still a lot of work to do to fully protect red squirrels in the region.
Red squirrel recovery – Analysis of trapping results has shown both a decline in grey squirrel numbers in many parts of the region (to almost zero in some places) and the beginnings of a recovery in red squirrel populations in many areas.
Landowner support – We are helping landowners to access Scottish Rural Development Programme funding to support grey squirrel control. Others are voluntarily supporting the project through our trap-loan scheme.
Volunteer support – Our survey volunteers are helping us monitor changes in red and grey squirrel numbers across Tayside, and measure the impact our work is having in the region. Other volunteers are supporting vital control work through our trap-loan scheme.
Squirrelpox testing – Since 2012 we have carried out annual blood-sampling of grey squirrels across Tayside to test for squirrelpox antibodies, as part of a national squirrelpox monitoring scheme designed to detect any spread in the disease
How you can help
- Help us monitor the situation in Tayside by submitting a squirrel sighting to our website
- Help prevent the spread of squirrelpox by cleaning your garden feeders regularly with anti-viral solution
- Get involved in citizen science by taking part in our spring surveys
- Take action for red squirrels by joining our trap-loan scheme
Volunteering with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a fantastic way to connect with nature and support your local area’s special native wildlife. Our volunteers are provided with the training and resources they need to participate.
Landowners in certain areas can control grey squirrels under Forestry Grant Scheme funding, or join the project’s trap-loan scheme. Woodland owners, meanwhile, can adjust the management of their woods to benefit red squirrels. Please contact your local Conservation Officer for more information.