NATIVE red squirrels have been spotted in Perthshire and Fife for the first time in five years.
A survey by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) found red squirrels at several of its properties, including Branklyn Garden in Perth and Falkland Palace in Fife.
Experts have welcomed the findings, which they say are “good news” for the species and prove measures to control invading alien grey squirrels is working.
There are now only around 160,000 red squirrels left in the UK, three-quarters of them north of the Border. Populations have fallen as a result of competition and diseases from their American cousins.
The study revealed there were red squirrels at 29 NTS properties and greys at 32.
“The recent census of our properties has shown that red squirrels are holding their own, and even thriving in many cases,” said NTS nature adviser Lindsay Mackinlay. “We’ve had some real successes in our Aberdeenshire, Perthshire and Fife properties, where we have seen the near-disappearance of grey squirrels from places like Crathes and Drum after years of seeing them expand in numbers, whilst we have seen reds return in other places.”
However, Mr Mackinlay warned that the larger grey remain a threat as they continue to move into new areas and the harmful squirrelpox virus spreads.
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“The current situation is stark and simple,” he said.
“Greys are still here, and with squirrelpox virus moving northwards with them, there is a very real danger for our red squirrels in some of our most beautiful properties.”
The conservation charity is planning to introduce red squirrels at NTS sites in the Highlands as a way of protecting numbers.
Mr Mackinlay added: “We are looking at our properties in the north-west to see if they would be suitable for red squirrel introductions, and would encourage other landowners to do the same.
“This could provide a long-term refuge for red squirrels should grey squirrels and the squirrelpox virus keep heading northwards.”
In other good news for the species, a pioneering conservation scheme has received a £37,800 funding boost from Heritage Lottery.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels will spend the cash on developing a network of voluntary groups that will contribute to a wider programme to secure the long-term survival of the remaining core populations across Scotland.