Efforts to save Scotland’s native red squirrels from extinction have received a major funding boost.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) conservation charity has been awarded a £2.46 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels – Developing Community Action project.
Scotland is the main stronghold for the endangered species, with three quarters of the UK population. But fewer than 120,000 remain.
The main threat to their survival comes from invasive non-native grey squirrels competing for food and nesting grounds and the spread of the deadly squirrelpox virus.
The five-year project involves recruiting 800 volunteers to work in three key areas across the country – Aberdeenshire, the central lowlands and southern Scotland – in a move to safeguard core populations of reds.
Conservationists will provide training and support for local people and land managers to play a vital role in the long-term protection of the much-loved species.
The red is the UK’s only native squirrel and was once common across mainland Britain. It has vanished from most of England and Scotland’s central belt due to the spread of its larger grey cousin, introduced from North America in the 19th century.
Dr Mel Tonkin, project manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, said: “Our work since 2009 shows that through targeted control of grey squirrels it is possible to reverse the decline of our native reds and help them to return to former territories.
“Red squirrels are one of Scotland’s most-loved species.
“Thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to empower communities to help protect not just their local red squirrels, but major populations of the species in Scotland, and ensure that future generations can continue to see these special animals.”
Scottish environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This investment to protect our red squirrels is very welcome as they are a priority species that we need to do all we can to help.”
Lucy Casot, head of HLF in Scotland, added: “Many of us have a soft spot for red squirrels and sighting one in the flesh is an exciting, but sadly increasingly rare, experience. Thanks to National Lottery players’ support, we’re helping organisations and communities protect and care for Scotland’s red squirrels, which represent three quarters of the UK’s dwindling population.”
The project is led by the SWT, in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.