The red squirrel is the UK’s only native squirrel species and was once a common sight across the UK – but for decades they’ve been in decline.
Red squirrels differ from non-native grey squirrels – they have red fur, are smaller than grey squirrels and have distinctive ear tufts and a long, bushy tail used for balance.
Their preferred habitat is a mixed woodland of both deciduous and coniferous trees.
– Distinctive ear tufts © Chris Sandom
The red squirrel was once present across much of the UK. However, the species has suffered a dramatic decline due to habitat fragmentation, competition from non-native grey squirrels and the spread of squirrelpox, a virus carried by grey squirrels that is fatal to reds.
These factors have caused the disappearance of red squirrels from most of England and Wales.
Red squirrels are, however, locally common in Scotland – 75% of the UK’s red squirrel population is found within Scotland, where there are still regions that grey squirrels have not yet invaded.
However, this percentage equates to only a small fraction of previous numbers, and many former Scottish territories remain unoccupied.
– Red squirrel at Alladale Wilderness Reserve in winter © Peter Cairns
In 2013, The European Nature Trust successfully released 36 red squirrels at Alladale Wilderness Reserve in the Scottish Highlands with the support of our partner, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and Alladale’s neighbouring estates.
The squirrels were given a full health inspection before being carefully transported to release sites in specially-built nest boxes which were then secured to trees. The squirrels were allowed to find their way out in their own time and explore their new habitat.
The work marks a successful chapter in Alladale’s rewilding story – today, there are signs of established breeding populations and we now look to expand the red squirrels’ range.
– Powerful hind legs give squirrels strong propulsion © Neil Mcintyre
Save the date: we will be hosting an exciting event at the Royal Geographical Society on 7th February 2019, with our fantastic partners Trees for Life, RZSS and SWT, which will raise funds for red squirrel translocation projects in the Scottish Highlands. Details will be released in a few weeks – watch this space!
In the meantime, if you would like to visit Alladale Wilderness Reserve and see the red squirrels in action, please do get in touch.