Sightings of red squirrels have more than tripled in Scotland – suggesting efforts to increase their numbers have been successful.
The Great Scottish Squirrel Survey shows Aberdeen has large numbers of red squirrels returning to the area, while the number of greys has fallen.
It also confirmed grey squirrels have been eradicated in the Highlands, where 80% of the UK’s red squirrel population live.
Emma Sheehy, who leads Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels in the north-east, said progress was down to an army of volunteers who check their 500 feeders fortnightly.
She said: “People in Aberdeen remember when red squirrels were in city parks and gardens, and they really wanted to see them coming back.
“Since 2010 we’ve had red squirrels back in Hazlehead Park, they’ve been back in Seaton Park since 2015, and they are occasionally in Duthie Park.
“Last year we had our first red squirrels in Victoria and Westburn parks as well.”
Grey squirrels were mistakenly introduced to Aberdeen’s wildlife population in 1971 after escaping from a zoo enclosure.
It meant greys were soon widespread across Aberdeen and the shire and could be found as far out as Banchory and Inverurie.
After the Scottish Wildlife Trust began their conservation 15 years ago, they’ve now contained the species to the city.
Grey squirrels are a major threat to the native Scottish breed – the Eurasion Red Squirrel. Their larger size also means they outcompete red squirrels for food and habitat.
Nicole Still, of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Greys will outcompete reds for resources, and they live at higher densities, so they force reds out of an area.
“Greys carry squirrel pox virus asymptomatically, but it can decimate a red squirrel population within a matter of weeks.”
The next step is to completely eradicate the grey squirrel from Aberdeen city, which the Wildlife Trust said they hoped to complete in the coming years.
One of the trust’s volunteers, Fiona Emslie, is a wildlife photographer and has gone from seeing one in 2017 to around 20 in her back garden.
She said: “It’s amazing, it’s such a joy to watch them and they bring their young every year.
“Just watching their mannerisms, being a wildlife photographer, and having them come to my door is magical.”