European conservationists say cull grey squirrels

EUROPEAN conservationists were in the Borders earlier this month for a conference on saving red squirrels.

More than 50 attended the cross-border conference co-organised by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) at Paxton House in Berwickshire.

Selkirk-based SSRS project officer Karen Ramoo said: “It was heart-warming to see the commitment of locals in the area who have sprung into action over the years to help save and protect this iconic species by getting involved with SSRS – the first project to tackle red squirrel conservation on a national scale.

“Getting everyone to work together on a cross-border, co-ordinated approach to grey squirrel control has made significant progress on giving reds a fighting chance of a long-term future.”

The meeting was attended by landowners and volunteers from across southern Scotland and northern England, as well as representatives of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, the European Squirrel Initiative (ESI) and Ford and Etal Estates.

ESI chairman George Farr said: “The greatest threat to the red squirrel in Scotland comes from squirrel pox infected greys.

The presence of the disease speeds up the decline of reds by 20 times – and reds have no resistance. It is critical that we stop infected greys spreading further north into Scotland. We must ensure that landowners, gamekeepers, volunteers and Government agencies all play their part in controlling grey squirrels, allowing reds to return and thrive.” added Mr Farr.

Money is available through the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) to control grey squirrels though the programme finishes next year.

Surveyors Edwin Thompson’s Patrick Playfair told the conference: “Applications, particularly in significant numbers, would help to alert the Scottish Government to the level of feeling among the rural community to the plight of the reds. It would also raise awareness of the issue with the authorities and could result in money being specifically allocated to squirrel applications.”

Hhe hoped it might even leave applicants first in line for whatever scheme replaces SRDP and he advised it is possible to apply for other biodiversity grants.

Anyone wanting to help by trapping and culling grey squirrels should contact Ms Ramoo on 01750 23446 or 07733 121838 or email karen@redsquirrels.org.uk