A Safe Haven for Red Squirrels: Securing their Future in Scotland

Trees for Life’s vision is to rewild the Scottish Highlands by saving and restoring the globally unique Caledonian Forest and all the wildlife it contains.  The charity aims to create a wild forested landscape from valley to mountain tip, where wilderness and people thrive.

The red squirrel is the most beloved mammal in the UK and an iconic species of Caledonian pinewoods. Scotland is one of the last UK strongholds for reds and this project aims to strengthen the conservation status of UK’s red squirrels by establishing new, self-sustaining populations in areas of the Highlands free from the threats of grey squirrels and disease.

Trees for Life has been involved in pioneering this translocation technique and early efforts have successfully established new flourishing red squirrel populations in a small number of Scottish locations. The project has identified several forest areas in the Northern Highlands of Scotland which are perfect habitats for reds but which they can’t reach on their own due to the large areas of open ground in between the forests and their current range. With the support of landowners, relevant authorities and local communities, they will re-introduce 4 new populations of red squirrels to these areas and inspire people to care for them through community events, annual surveys and citizen science observations.

The Update

This project is now half-way through its implementation. Highlights so far include:
– the successful translocation of 37 red squirrels to two sites in the northwest Highlands. Squirrels were captured from suitable donor populations. Following health checks, they were transferred into specially built nest boxes lined with hay and provided with food. These boxes were then secured to trees at the release sites. Supplementary food is also provided at the sites for up to six months: to give the squirrels time to become accustomed to their new habitat. Hopefully there will soon be signs of successful breeding – there are some exciting early indications that this is the case.
– talks and training events with local communities, which resulted in the recruitment of 10 volunteer rangers who helped with the squirrel releases.
– education in schools in the Highland community engaged 114 children.
– attendance at a number of outdoor public events, including Belladrum Tartan Music Festival, promoted the red squirrel project.
– three walks undertaken at the translocation sites engaged local people and taught them how to identify squirrel signs, including dreys and feeding remains.

Next steps….
– Further translocations;
– Surveys to assess population expansion and breeding success of the translocated squirrels;
– Continuing with talks and training events, as well as education in schools – when it is safe to do so whilst we are all affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.