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£1million boost for red squirrel conservation

A grant awarded by The Scottish Government's Nature Restoration Fund is set to help support the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels project.

A Red Squirrel Gnawing a Conifer Cone

Over £1m in new funding has been announced to aid red squirrel conservation efforts in key areas across Scotland for the next two years.

Red squirrels were spotted last year in Cove, Garelochhead, Ardpeaton and Glen Fruin, as well as Loch Lomondside and the Cowal Peninsula, as seen on this map produced by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, in which grey squirrel sightings are marked in blue.

A total grant of £1,052,796 has been awarded by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot, which supports the restoration of wildlife and habitats across the country.

The new funds will support the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project in conservation work and developing new techniques to halt red squirrel declines, reinforce protections for the core red-only populations of the Highlands, and progress long-term aims for population expansion in the north east and central lowlands of Scotland.

Programme Manager Nicole Still said: “We are delighted to receive this new funding, which represents the next step in the journey towards integrating sustainable long-term red squirrel recovery in Scotland.

“Our hopes and aims for next phase are ambitious, but ones that we absolutely can realise with increased landscape-scale investment from partners, stakeholders, landowners, and local community involvement.

“We are incredibly grateful to everyone already involved in red squirrel conservation across the country and look forward to bringing more people and organisations onboard with this important and vital work.”

The project has been working since 2009 to protect Scotland’s iconic red squirrels, whose populations are under threat from the spread of the invasive non-native grey squirrel.

Greys outcompete red squirrels for food and living space and can carry the squirrelpox virus which does not harm them but is deadly to reds.

Greys were first introduced to the UK from North America by the Victorians and have since displaced red squirrels in most of England and Wales, with more than 75% of the UK’s total remaining population residing in Scotland today.

Over the next two years the new funding will enable the creation of new community focused rapid response monitoring and control networks across the northern central lowlands, made possible by increased year-round professional grey squirrel control activities in the area.

This will pave the way for a long-term southward shift of the current “Highland Line Control Zone” – the 10km zone stretching from Balloch to Montrose and buffering the diagonal Highland Boundary Fault Line, where Scotland’s Highland red-only squirrel population intersects with the most northly reaches of grey squirrels incurring from the Lowlands.

These new networks will also help facilitate the project’s aim to eradicate greys from the islands of Loch Lomond with the support of partners and landowners and additional funding from the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority.

Dr Katherine Leys, NatureScot’s head of biodiversity and geodiversity, said: “Scotland’s red squirrels are one of our well-loved symbols of nature, but they are threatened by non-native grey squirrels.

“This funding from the Nature Restoration Fund will help to protect the highland population above the boundary fault. Through the fund, we support vital work to restore Scotland’s species and habitats.

“Now more than ever, we need nature-based solutions to the climate-nature crises. It’s projects like this that can really help to stop biodiversity loss and enable us to move towards a nature-rich, net-zero future for everyone in Scotland.”

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and supported by the Scottish Government and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, thanks to National Lottery players, until March 31.

From April 1 it will be supported by the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund, managed by NatureScot.