Red squirrels bounce back on charity land

Red squirrel

A red squirrel caught on a trail camera at House of Dun, Montrose.

Endangered animals seen on charity properties after years of absence.

Graham Martin's photo

28th January 2016 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Endangered red squirrels are making a comeback on charity-run land.

The animals have been seen on National Trust for Scotland (NTS) properties in Perthshire and Fife after years of absence.

Conservationists say this is good news for the species, which for decades, has been losing territory to non-native grey squirrels.

However, the charity says that the future is still far from secure for red squirrels and Highland havens could help in their long-term survival. 

The NTS carried out the survey in late 2015 to establish which squirrels were found on its land across Scotland.

The recent census of our properties has shown that red squirrels are holding their own, and even thriving in many cases

For the first time in over five years, staff and volunteers at Branklyn Garden in Perth and Falkland Palace in Fife have reported reds – a positive sign which demonstrates that the work to control grey squirrels around these areas is working.

At the House of Dun, staff are capturing many more shots of red squirrels on trail cameras, but unfortunately, they also filmed a grey squirrel for the first time recently, which is of major concern.

The census found that there were red squirrels at 29 Trust properties, and grey squirrels at 32 places.

NTS nature adviser, Lindsay Mackinlay, said: “The recent census of our properties has shown that red squirrels are holding their own, and even thriving in many cases. We've had some real successes in our Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Fife properties, where we have seen the near disappearance of grey squirrels from places like Crathes and Drum after years of seeing them expand in numbers, whilst we have seen reds return in other places.”   

However, the situation for red squirrels is still far from secure as their non-native cousins continue to move into new areas and the harmful squirrelpox virus spreads.

Mackinlay said: “Greys have expanded their range in some regions, particularly around House of Dun, beside Montrose, and they continue to threaten reds in Dumfries and Galloway. The current situation is stark and simple - greys are still here, and with squirrelpox virus moving northwards with them, there is a very real danger for our red squirrels in some of our most beautiful properties, like Killiecrankie, Crathes, Threave and House of Dun, to name but a few. All these properties sit on the so-called frontline of grey expansion.”

Angus is proving to be a critical location in protecting the Aberdeenshire stronghold of red squirrels. And, hope for the red squirrel could be offered in the north west Highlands.

Mackinlay continued: “We are looking at our properties in the north west to see if they would be suitable for red squirrel introductions, and would encourage other landowners to do the same. This could provide a long-term refuge for red squirrels should grey squirrels and the squirrelpox virus keep heading northwards.”