The fight to save Scotland’s red squirrel population has received a £2.46m Heritage Lottery Fund grant.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust has been awarded the funding for its community action projects.
In southern Scotland, the focus will be on eight priority areas for red squirrel conservation.
The 80 acres around Paxton House used to be an important habitat for red squirrels but they were wiped out in a matter of weeks in 2011 by the deadly squirrelpox virus.
Experts, however, are confident that red squirrels will make a return to southern Scotland and Paxton, and since 2012 estates along the Tweed have been conducting intensive grey squirrel control to reduce their numbers.
Mel Tonkin, project manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels said “Over the past few years, co-ordinated work to control grey squirrels in southern Scotland has allowed important populations of red squirrels to recover, and slowed the spread of the deadly squirrelpox virus into the rest of the country.
“As a result of this support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we will be able to continue to help landowners in Berwickshire access funding for grey squirrel control.
“We can also offer support for volunteer groups to continue to help save one of our most popular species.”
In the region’s eight priority areas for red squirrel conservation, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels will create networks of local people able to make an important ecological impact by monitoring squirrel numbers and trapping greys that would otherwise oust local red squirrels, making them more resilient to changes and safeguarding important populations for Scotland.
Over the next five years, the project will enlist volunteers to carry out practical work to protect and strengthen red squirrel populations in their local area.
Scotland is home to under 120,000 red squirrels, three quarters of the UK population, but they are under threat from competition with invasive non-native grey squirrels and the spread of the squirrelpox virus.
Dr Tonkin added: “Our work since 2009 shows that through targeted control of grey squirrels, it is possible to reverse the decline of our native reds and help them to return to former territories.
“Red squirrels are one of Scotland’s most-loved species.
“Thanks to National Lottery players, we will be able to empower communities to help protect not just their local red squirrels, but major populations of the species in Scotland, and ensure that future generations can continue to see these special animals.”
Scottish Government environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This investment to protect our red squirrels is very welcome as they are a priority species that we need to do all we can to help.”
Anyone can help Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels by recording sightings of grey and red squirrels online at www.scottishsquirrels.co.uk