Red squirrels charity hopeful for 2014

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels (SSRS) south Scotland project officer Karen Ramoo
Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels (SSRS) south Scotland project officer Karen Ramoo
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The first systematic survey of red squirrels across south Scotland last year was so successful, volunteers are planning another this year.

Looking back over 2013, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) South Scotland project officer Karen Ramoo said the survey was undoubtedly one of the campaigning charity’s biggest local highlights.

Karen said: “What we found was that red squirrels in south Scotland are still very much widely distributed – that’s been the real highlight of the year.

“It was the first time we got so many volunteers in south Scotland involved, as about 80 individuals took part, which is great.”

Of the 88 sites surveyed in the spring of 2013, 51 (58 per cent) showed signs of red squirrels and 22 (25 per cent) had grey squirrels present.

The survey showed neighbouring Galloway and the south-western Borders – between Hawick and Moffat and between Hawick and Kielder Forest – are still red squirrel havens. Grey squirrels were detected at far fewer survey sites overall, “although they are clearly established in the central and eastern Borders, much of Ayrshire and in all other counties to the north of Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders” said the survey report.

Greys remain the biggest threat to red squirrels, says Karen: “You do get incursions, they will use riparian corridors and go along old railway lines and that’s where we have always focused our efforts.”

Some areas, such as along the River Tweed in Berwickshire, have been hit by greys, most dramatically was when Paxton House lost its famous red squirrel population to squirrel pox (carried by greys) in 2011.

But there have been signs of the native on neighbouring estates and Karen is hopeful they will return to Paxton soon: “It’s encouraging, it just shows that if you keep up the grey control, the reds will eventually come back.”

For now though, she hopes more volunteers will step forward in the Kelso area.

She told us: “We have attended a number of shows there to try and get more support. There is quite a substantial population of grey squirrels there, but we have also had new sightings of reds around Heiton and Morebattle which is fantastic.”

Reds near Peebles “seem to be thriving” said Karen; they have been spotted by SSRS staff near Lauder and there have even been reported sightings of the cheeky natives in Galashiels town centre.

Karen said: “People are really engaged with red squirrels and often ask ‘where can we go to see them and how can we get more involved and what can we do to help conserve them?’. There is always a massive interest in red squirrels and conservation, how we can keep them and protect the squirrels that we have.”

The charity plans to carry 2014’s survey in March-April when volunteers place feeder boxes in selected sites and change over sticky pads (which catch squirrel hairs when they eat) every two weeks, and post the pads to the project.

“It’s quite low intensity,” said Karen: “People combine it with walking their dogs. It’s nice to get out in the countryside and we provide all the equipment and training.”

For more information contact Karen via karen@redsquirrels.org.uk or 01750 23446.