Red squirrels reintroduced to Highlands woods

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Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland join forces to secure the species' long-term future. 

17th October 2019 by Gavin Stuart 0 Comments

Two conservation charities have joined forces to reintroduce red squirrels to woods in Sutherland.

Trees for Life and Woodland Trust Scotland released the animals at Ledmore and Migdale Woods as part of a reintroduction project across the Scottish Highlands.

Launching a drive to help red squirrels extend their range further north, around 20 reds from thriving populations in Inverness-shire and Moray will be relocated to the Woodland Trust site near the village of Spinningdale on the shore of Dornoch Firth during October and November.

Critically, the charities say, the region is free of grey squirrels.

“We are reintroducing red squirrels to carefully chosen native woodlands where these iconic wild animals belong, but from which they have been lost. They will then be able to spread, safe from threats from grey squirrels,” said Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Red Squirrel project manager.

“The Woodland Trust’s Ledmore and Migdale Woods are a perfect habitat for red squirrels. It’s fantastic to be helping the species return to this beautiful part of the Highlands, and to be kick-starting their reintroduction to northeast Scotland.”

The Trees for Life project aims to secure the long-term future of the increasingly rare red squirrel in the UK, where only an estimated 138,000 survive, including some 120,000 in Scotland. Numbers of the much-loved mammals have been decimated by reduction of their forest homes to isolated fragments, and by competition and lethal disease from non-native grey squirrels.

Because reds travel between trees and avoid crossing large open spaces, they can’t return to now-isolated woodlands on their own – so the species is absent from many suitable Highland woods. New populations of red squirrels already established by Trees for Life – following the charity’s reintroduction of 140 animals across several Highland locations between 2016 and 2018 – have been successfully breeding and spreading into wider areas.

Ross Watson, north Scotland site manager at Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “We’re delighted to be involved in Trees for Life’s inspiring and much-needed red squirrel reintroduction project. The ancient woods at Ledmore and Migdale include a stunning pinewood and one of the most northerly oakwoods in Britain. It is perfect for red squirrels.

“Volunteers from the local community have come forward to help us ease the reds into their new home. They will be feeding and monitoring how the squirrels are getting on. It is great that the local community is going to be a part of this exciting project, and with 19 volunteers the squirrels will almost have one each.”

Next spring, Trees for Life plans to extend the reds’ range further west by releasing another 30 animals in the Morvern peninsular. The charity then aims to reintroduce reds to another two woodlands in the northwest Highlands by spring 2021, with at least one of these sites – which have yet to be confirmed – being further north in Sutherland or Caithness.