The first systematic survey of red squirrels across south Scotland last year was so successful, volunteers are planning another this year.
Reflecting on 2013, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) South Scotland project officer Karen Ramoo believes 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, about 80 individuals took part.”
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.
Greys remain the biggest threat to red squirrels, says Karen: “You do get incursions, they will 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 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, she hopes more volunteers will step forward in the Kelso area. “We have attended a number of shows there to try and get more support,” she said. “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.”
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?’
The charity plans to carry out 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.
For more information contact karen@red squirrels.org.uk or phone 01750 23446.