Experts have launched an emergency bid to stop the spread of a deadly squirrelpox outbreak tearing through the red population in Dumfries and Galloway.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) says the organisation has received multiple reports of the disease near Johnsfield – 16 years after the virus was first recorded in the country.
The condition, which causes weeping lesions that prevents the animals from eating, drinking or moving, is carried by grey squirrels but is only lethal to the red variety.
SSRS said ten squirrels have already been found dead, though the virus is thought to be affecting several more.
Humans have been urged to post any dead red squirrel carcasses to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, though were warned not to approach live animals.
Nicole Still, SSRS programme manager, said: “It is devastating to learn of this squirrelpox outbreak.
“Members of the public can help by reporting all sightings of red and grey squirrels to us via our website, thoroughly cleaning all garden feeders with an anti-viral solution which is available from most local farm supply shops, taking feeders down for 2-4 weeks, and posting any dead red squirrel carcasses found to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies for post-mortem analysis.”
The disease was first found in Scotland near Lockerbie in 2007, though previous outbreaks have been curbed by “targeted” work to reduce the grey population.
Around 75% of the UK’s red squirrel population are thought to live in Scotland, according to figures released by NatureScot in 2022.
Experts say they are particularly concerned about the effect on the “thriving” population at the nearby Eskrigg Nature Reserve.
SSRS project officer, Andrew Hodgkinson, said: “This is a particularly vulnerable time for red squirrels, as they prepare for the upcoming mating season and increase contact with one another.
“We have deployed our emergency squirrelpox outbreak response measures, and as such locals can expect to see an increased staff and volunteer presence in the area as we increase grey control efforts in the region in a bid to stem the outbreak.”