Red squirrels; Scotland’s loved animal
Red squirrels are one of Scotland’s most loved animals,
and they are our only native squirrel species.
Red squirrels were once widespread throughout the country.
There are still many places you could encounter one today,
from the conifer forests of Galloway,
to the Atlantic hazel woodlands of Argyll,
to the country estates of Tayside
or the Caledonian pine forests of the Highlands.
Red squirrel populations have seriously declined, with only around 120,000 remaining in Scotland today. In some places they have not been seen for many years.
The greatest threat to the red squirrel’s future in Scotland is the invasive non-native grey squirrel. Larger and more robust, grey squirrels out-compete red squirrels for food and living space, making it difficult for red squirrels to successfully breed and for their young to survive. When grey squirrels move into a new area, red squirrels can be completely replaced within 15 years.
The grey squirrel is a North American species that was first introduced to Britain in Victorian times, to decorate the gardens of large stately homes. They soon expanded their range, completely replacing red squirrels in most of England and Wales, and many parts of Scotland. The competition between red and grey squirrels is an unnatural, man-made problem that we have a responsibility to manage.
Some grey squirrels also brought Squirrelpox, a virus that they carry without harm to themselves. Red squirrels have no natural immunity to Squirrelpox, and the disease is usually fatal within two weeks. When Squirrelpox is present, grey squirrels can replace red populations around twenty times as fast as they can through competition alone.
The destruction of woodland has also contributed to the red squirrel’s decline. Habitat fragmentation, when areas of woodland become separated by development and changing land-use, is also problematic. These isolated areas are often too small to support healthy and sustainable populations of wildlife, including red squirrels.