The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) was once present across much of the UK. However, habitat fragmentation, competition from non-native grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and the spread of squirrelpox, a disease carried by grey squirrels that is fatal to reds, have caused a huge decline in numbers. Red squirrels have disappeared from most of England and Wales, with only isolated populations remaining on the south coast, the Isle of Wight, Cumbria and Anglesey. Scotland is the species’ best stronghold and holds an estimated 121,000 individuals, 75% of the UK population. However, this is only a small fraction of previous numbers, and many former territories remain unoccupied.
Between 2016 and 2018 we plan to reintroduce red squirrels to ten sites across the northwest Highlands, where grey squirrels are not present. Squirrels will be caught from donor sites across Highland and Moray, where populations are flourishing, and given a full health inspection before being carefully transported to release sites in specially-built nest boxes. The boxes will be secured to trees and the squirrels allowed to find their way out in their own time. The new populations will then be closely monitored over the coming years to assess breeding success and rate of expansion throughout the new habitat.
This inspiring work is being carried out in partnership with Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, who has previously carried out successful translocations to three sites in the northwest Highlands. Our project is building upon this, creating a further ten new populations which can expand to provide a much-needed increase to both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK. People will also benefit from the project, with the work providing a unique opportunity for volunteers, including those from remote communities, to take an active part in wildlife conservation.
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