Successful wildlife project is fighting back against UK's 'decimated' red squirrel population

Written by Samantha Lade for DonateToday

PUBLISHED: 14:21, 6th Nov 2017 | UPDATED: 09:42, 7th Nov 2017

Over three quarters of the UK's remaining red squirrel population reside in Scotland

A project where red squirrels have been reintroduced to their old forest homes in northwest Scotland has reported evidence of its success.

The conservation charity Trees for Life released almost 100 red squirrels – one of Britain's most endangered mammals – back into suitable native woodlands in the Highlands between the springs of 2016 and 2017.

The species were taken from the Inverness and Moray areas of Scotland, and reintroduced across areas of Wester Ross where they once thrived. 

They cannot return to these isolated areas by themselves, as they travel only between trees and avoid crossing big, open spaces.

The red squirrel population, a species native to Britain, has been 'decimated' over the years mainly by deforestation, which has left the squirrels with remote remnants of their former habitat.

Disease and competition posed by the non-native grey squirrel has also caused the alarming extinction of local red squirrel populations over the years. Grey squirrels carry squirrelpox: a disease fatal to reds which does not affect greys.

Only around 138,000 red squirrels remain – a number that once stood at over 3.5 million. The charity, however, have reported seeing positive results from their project, with evidence of the relocated squirrels recolonising the forest areas. 

Trees for Life have recorded rises in breeding, feeding and regular sightings of the red squirrel across Wester Ross.

This evidence has been caught by specialised cameras in the forest, as well as by the local community who have been monitoring and and carrying out supplementary feedings with the furry creatures.

Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer, says: ‘Early indications are that this could be a real wildlife success story. 

"There were once about 3.5 million red squirrels in the UK, but today only around 161,000 remain."

Trees for Life | 2017

'The new squirrel populations are not only flourishing and breeding in their new homes, they are also starting to spread out into new areas – with squirrels being sighted as far as 15 kilometres away.’

A higher population of red squirrels in the area also benefits the native forests in a number of ways, as the small mammals collect and bury thousands of tree seeds each autumn which often take root. 

Further releases of more red squirrels are planned to take place this autumn, with annual monitoring of the species continuing year-round.