Red squirrel conservation in Scotland granted £1m

A grant of £1,052,796 has been awarded by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund to support the restoration of red squirrel habitats across the country.

Red squirrel

The new funds will support the Scottish Wildlife Trust led Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project to deliver conservation work on the ground and develop new techniques to halt red squirrel declines, reinforcing protections for the core red only populations of the Highlands, and progress long-term aims for population expansion in the North East and Central Lowlands of Scotland.

Scotland hosts around three quarters of the total remaining population of red squirrels – estimated at around 160,000, compared to more than three million greys. Greys outcompete their smaller British relatives for food and also carry the squirrelpox virus, which can prove deadly to reds. First introduced to the UK from North America, Greys have displaced red squirrels in most of England and Wales, with more than 75% of the UK’s total remaining population residing in Scotland today.

Nicole Still, programme manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels said: “We are delighted to receive this new funding, which represents the next step in the journey towards integrating sustainable long-term red squirrel recovery in Scotland. Our hopes and aims for next phase are ambitious, but ones that we absolutely can realise with increased landscape-scale investment from partners, stakeholders, landowners, and local community involvement. We are incredibly grateful to everyone already involved in red squirrel conservation across the country and look forward to bringing more people and organisations onboard with this important and vital work.”

The funding enables rapid response monitoring and control networks across the northern Central Lowlands, made possible by increased year-round professional grey squirrel control activities in the area. Thereby, paving the way for a long-term southward shift of the current Highland Line Control Zone – the 10 km zone stretching from Balloch to Montrose and buffering the diagonal Highland Boundary Fault Line, where Scotland’s Highland red-only squirrel population intersects with the most northly reaches of grey squirrels incurring from the Lowlands.

Dr Katherine Leys, NatureScot’s Head of Biodiversity and Geodiversity, said: “Scotland’s red squirrels are one of our well-loved symbols of nature, but they are threatened by non-native grey squirrels. This funding from the Nature Restoration Fund will help to protect the highland population above the boundary fault. Through the fund, we support vital work to restore Scotland’s species and habitats. Now more than ever, we need nature-based solutions to the climate-nature crises. It’s projects like this that can really help to stop biodiversity loss and enable us to move towards a nature-rich, net-zero future for everyone in Scotland. Additionally, separate limited funding from SSRS partners NatureScot and Forestry and Land Scotland has been secured to continue professional grey squirrel control in several target areas within the Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation of South Scotland until September 2024”.

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and supported by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players, until 31st March. From 1st April it will be supported by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot.