10th October 2017, by Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels
Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels encourages the public to report their sightings of both red and grey squirrels, to help the project monitor the situation across the country. However, in Dumfries & Galloway, the sightings map does not tell the full story.
The region is home to a significant population of red squirrels, but numbers have fallen rapidly in recent decades, as non-native grey squirrels have moved into their territory.
Grey squirrels out-compete red squirrels for food and shelter. They also carry squirrelpox, a virus that doesn't harm them but is deadly to red squirrels. Squirrelpox is a particular threat in Dumfries & Galloway, where outbreaks have been recorded near Lockerbie, Thornill and Moffat.
However, despite these challenges, red squirrels are known to be holding on strong in many parts of Dumfries & Galloway, with the project's spring survey results suggesting that there are still many places with red-only populations.
Dr. Stephanie Johnstone, Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels Conservation Officer for the region said: "People in many parts of Dumfries & Galloway are fortunate to be living so close to red squirrels, and are very used to having them around.
Places like Gatehouse of Fleet, New Galloway and New Abbey are havens for red squirrels, yet our current sightings map would make anyone think they were grey dominated areas.
It is true that small numbers of grey squirrels are moving into these areas and it's fantastic that local people understand how important it is that we know about these sightings, but reporting red squirrel sightings is equally important. It helps us monitor the impact our work is having, and know where to focus our efforts and limited resources.
Plus, we want to show the rest of the country what a great place Dumfries & Galloway currently is for red squirrels, and demonstrate that they are still worth saving!"
Red squirrels were once widespread across Scotland and while three quarters of the UK’s red squirrels are found here, their numbers have fallen drastically to just 120,000. This is largely due to the spread of the grey squirrel, which was first introduced to Britain from North America in the mid-19th Century.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and made possible thanks to National Lottery players and the Dumfries & Galloway LEADER 2014 – 2020 programme.
In south Scotland, project efforts are focussed on areas where red squirrels have the best chance of thriving once more, known as 'Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation', or PARCs.
Residents and visitors to Dumfries & Galloway can support the project by reporting their sightings of both red and grey squirrels at scottishsquirrels.org.uk