Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels

The story so far


UK Strategy for Red Squirrel Conservation is published, providing a framework for the development of red squirrel conservation throughout the UK.


The Scottish Squirrel Strategy is produced by the Scottish Squirrel Group, comprising representatives from government agencies, NGOs and local squirrel groups. The strategy aims to “maintain populations of red squirrels across their current range”.


The Scottish Red Squirrel Action Plan 2006-2011 is produced, setting out an integrated approach to red squirrels conservation in Scotland, to include the grey squirrel control, survey and monitoring, and addressing the threat of squirrelpox virus.


The red squirrel is listed as a priority species in Scottish Natural Heritage’s Species Action Framework, which provided the core funding for Phase 1 of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels and Phase IV of Red Squirrels in South Scotland.

Squirrelpox is detected in Scottish red squirrels for the first time in woodland just south of Lockerbie. The long-established Red Squirrels in South Scotland project (RSSS) is tasked with halting and pushing back the spread of the virus by intensive grey squirrel control.


Phase IV of RSSS develops an extensive network of co-ordinated control by landowners grant-funded under the Rural Development Programme, with RSSS controllers continuing the intensive work inside an identified “Priority squirrelpox control zone” (supported by Forestry Commission Scotland on its estates).


Following a public consultation, Forestry Commission Scotland develop a suite of 18 public and private forest areas, plus the Island of Arran, as red squirrel stronghold areas, providing long-term refuges for red squirrels if other conservation measures fail to halt the spread of grey squirrels.

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is launched in April 2009, with the overall aims of halting the spread of grey squirrels, improving access to information on woodland management for red squirrels and increasing public awareness of problems faced by the red squirrel.


Two reports – examining the effectiveness of grey squirrel control by SSRS and RSSS staff – are provided to SNH in late 2011. Although there was insufficient time to draw robust conclusions, the reports suggested that trapping could be effective in reducing grey squirrel numbers locally, allowing red squirrels to recolonise.

While control efforts by RSSS had decreased the spread of squirrelpox through southern Scotland, new cases of squirrelpox continue to be discovered, including in Newton Stewart, Culzean and Mauchline.


Phase 2 of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels begins in April, bringing the two major red squirrel conservation projects in Scotland together under one umbrella. This two year phase aims to continue a programme of grey squirrel control in targeted areas of Scotland and to contain or significantly slow the progress of squirrelpox spread in south Scotland.

Over 400 landowners are now actively involved in the project, covering an area well in excess of 4,000 square kilometres.  


A new mathematical modelling approach, led by Heriot Watt University, aims to explore the patterns of spread of squirrelpox virus in Scotland and to predict the likely future spread under different scenarios.


Phase 3 of the project begins in April, aiming to sustain red squirrel populations north of the Central Lowlands and in key areas of south Scotland, manage the impact of the deadly squirrelpox virus and establish a long-term, cost effective means of controlling the spread of the non-native grey squirrel.

Seen a red or grey squirrel recently? Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels needs your help. Please report your squirrel sighting using our dedicated online sightings page. This will help us get a clear picture of red and grey squirrel distribution across Scotland.

This year's sightings


Project partners 

Scottish Wildlife Trust Forestry Commission Scottish Land and Estates
Scottish Natural Heritage Red Squirrel Survival Trust RSPBHeritage Lottery Fund