RED squirrels are back in the Rule Valley after locals have tackled the non-native greys which had pushed smaller reds out.
Shadow Environment Minister Claudia Beamish, MSP for South Scotland, visited West Leas near Denholm to learn about the national effort to save the native species, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS).
The area lost its red squirrels to competition from greys, but thanks to local volunteers trapping the latter, the red populations are thriving again, said a spokesperson for SSRS, a partnership between Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.
Volunteer Ann Laidlaw, who hosted the shadow minister’s visit, said: “We really feel quite privileged to be a part of such an important project. This is our third year trapping and it is so rewarding to see so many, very healthy, red squirrels on a regular basis.
“We were a bit worried that, with so many of them about, they might be become dependent on our artificial feeding instead of foraging for their own, but when we saw the way they demolished all the hazelnuts in our orchard recently, we’re not so concerned.
Speaking following the visit, the MSP said: “Fantastic work has been done in West Leas. The red squirrel is the UK’s only native squirrel species and is part of our heritage. It is hugely important that steps are taken to protect the species.”
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project manager Mel Tonkin said: “We owe our success in this area to the co-ordinated approach to landscape-scale trapping by local landowners, supported by grant funding under the Rural Development Programme, but often contributing over and above their funded work.
“The work must be continued if we are to continue to protect our native species from the deadly effects of the squirrelpox virus in other parts of the Borders and, ultimately, the rest of Scotland.
“Whilst a vaccine for squirrelpox is in development, it may not be available for use in the wild for many years yet. In the meantime, if we don’t carry on protecting areas of Scotland like the Borders where our beautiful native squirrel is seen, it could be gone forever.”
The SSRS project relies on the support of volunteers to monitor squirrel populations.
For more information on how to help, visit www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk.”