ENVIRONMENT minister Stewart Stevenson described conservation work in the Borders as “excellent” after a visit to two projects in the region last week.
The MSP visited Tweed Forum at Drygrange Steading near Melrose last Wednesday morning and went to a farm near Bonchester Bridge to see an example of the work of the Red Squirrel South of Scotland project in the afternoon.
The minister said: “It was very impressive to see the excellent work going on to manage the River Tweed and support our red squirrel population.”
He said of the Tweed Forum, which represents a range of interests in the Tweed’s catchment area: “Its work is bringing real value to the environment of the Tweed and those who make a living from it, as environmental issues are very important to fishing and wider economic interests including tourism. “
At West Leas Farm. where grey squirrels are trapped to improve the chances for native red squirrels, the minister said: “Creating a barrier across the Borders against the squirrel pox virus is vitally important to halt the spread of this disease carried by greys across the rest of Scotland.”
Tweed Forum manager Luke Comins briefed the minister on the work and philosophy of the forum.
Mr Comins said later: “It is increasingly clear that we are seen as a blueprint at a national level for integrated land and water management and we explained how we work with farmers, landowners and communities to get things done on the ground that have multiple benefits such as habitat enhancement, diffuse pollution control, natural flood management, land and farm resilience to more extreme climatic events, access/tourism/recreation enhancements, education and others.”
Projects include fighting invasive plants on the Tweed, the Eddleston Water project to restore natural habitats and help prevent flooding, and Cheviot Futures helping farmers in the Cheviot foothills adapt to climate change.
The Red Squirrel South of Scotland project, set up in 2000, aims to make Scotland a red squirrel stronghold by controlling the incursion of pox-carrying greys and promoting best practice forest management.
The minister said: “The project is an excellent example of public and private sectors working in partnership. There are some very encouraging signs of progress being made.”
Project co-ordinator Karen Ramoo said: “We wanted to get across the point of the project, the work we were doing and how important it is to have all these people (public and private organisations) involved.”
Bodies involved include the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and managers Southern Uplands Partnership.
She said: “The minister’s visit is important because it’s public money that goes into the project. It’s showing this money is being used in a good way and is not being wasted, and that it is achieving the objective of the project and we can show where we are at and where we want to be in the future.
“West Leas is a fantastic example of how collaborative and co-ordinated trapping of grey squirrels can have a real positive impact on red squirrel populations. The farm has been a real success story with the owners and neighbours reporting increased numbers of red squirrels seen.”
She said nine other properties around the farm were trapping and culling grey squirrels which had helped boost numbers of reds.