A campaign to boost the numbers of red squirrels in Scotland has been awarded a £1.1m ‘booster’ to support the project for another two years.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust announced the funding for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project on Tuesday.
The money will extend the scheme from April 2022 to March 2024 is in addition to £2.45m of lottery funding which was awarded in 2017.
SWT say the ‘booster’ phase will enable the project to complete its aims and plan for the long-term future, leaving a legacy of sustainable and community-led red squirrel conservation across the south of Scotland.
Conservation work will continue in “priority areas” to help mitigate some of the challenges the project has faced in recent years.
Manager Dr Mel Tonkin said: “Thanks to the hard work of our staff, volunteers, landowners and partners we’ve seen some fantastic success stories in the past five years.
“But the project has also faced challenges, particularly due to the impact of Covid-19. During lockdown much of our grey squirrel control and survey work was suspended.
“This additional two years will help us further secure the red squirrel’s place amongst Scotland’s special native wildlife.”
Scottish Wildlife Trust Chief Executive Jo Pike said: “We’re delighted to have secured funding to enable the two-year transition phase to take place. The strength of the collaboration between partners, the quality of the data and evidence gathering, and the extraordinary contribution from volunteers have all combined to make this a project that is rightly viewed as an exemplar of invasive non-native species control.
“We very much look forward to continuing the important work to secure the future of red squirrels in Scotland.”
Grey squirrels continue to pose the greatest threat to red squirrels in Scotland. An invasive species that was introduced to Britain from North America in Victorian times, grey squirrels out-compete reds for food and living space and have rapidly replaced native red squirrel populations across most of England, Wales and Scotland’s Central Belt.
One of the project’s key aims is to build a network of local volunteers in priority areas across the south of Scotland, where healthy red squirrel populations are surrounded by greys and squirrelpox is a major threat.
In the north east, the project has worked towards the removal of an isolated population of grey squirrels that was introduced to Aberdeen in the 1970s and spread to the surrounding countryside.
Today, grey squirrels are largely limited to the centre of the city and eradication is considered achievable.
The project has also focussed on public engagement at both a local and nationwide level, with over 1000 people reporting squirrel sightings online as part of September’s third annual ‘Great Scottish Squirrel Survey’ campaign.