Return Of The Red Squirrels

Red squirrels appear to be returning to our countryside. Photo courtesy of National Trust for Scotland

A survey by the National Trust for Scotland has found that red squirrels have been spotted once again at properties in Perthshire and Fife, after years of absence.

This is good news for the red squirrel, which for decades, has been losing territory to non-native grey squirrels, although the National Trust for Scotland stressed that the future is still far from secure for reds.

There were red squirrels at 29 Trust properties

The census found that there were red squirrels at 29 Trust properties and grey squirrels at 32 places. For the first time in over five years, staff and volunteers at Branklyn Garden in Perth and Falkland Palace in Fife reported reds – a positive sign which demonstrates that the work to control grey squirrels around these areas is working.

At 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.

‘Red squirrels are holding their own, and even thriving’

“The recent census of our properties has shown that red squirrels are holding their own, and even thriving in many cases,” said National Trust for Scotland Nature Adviser, Lindsay Mackinlay.

“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 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. “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,” continues Lindsay.

“The current situation is stark and simple – greys are still here, and with squirrelpox virus moving northwards with them, there’s a very real danger for our red squirrels in some of our most beautiful properties, like Killiecrankie, Crathes, Threave and House of Dun.”

Angus is proving to be a critical location

Lindsay explained that Angus is proving to be a critical location in protecting the Aberdeenshire stronghold of red squirrels, while hope could be offered for the red squirrel in the North West Highlands.

“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,” said Lindsay. “This could provide a long-term refuge for red squirrels.”

More about the National Trust for Scotland’s work to protect red squirrels is available in its Red Squirrel Conservation Action Plan, which you can find here.