Red Squirrel Week: celebrate and get involved
This week on our blog, Gill Hatcher from Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels tell us a little more about their achievements over the past year and the Great Scottish Squirrel Survey campaign for this years National Red Squirrel Week.
It’s National Red Squirrel Week, one of the busiest times of the year for the team at Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. Of course, every week is red squirrel week when you work in this field! But this official event provides an important opportunity to get more people across the country thinking about one of our most iconic yet threatened native species.
It’s also an opportunity to celebrate some of the achievements that have been made over the past year. Our new website and online Community Hub was launched during Red Squirrel Week 2018. Designed to provide our volunteers with enhanced feedback and better control of their conservation data, over 800 people have already created an account.
The Hub also helps volunteers connect with one another, particularly in the south of Scotland where we are supporting volunteer groups as part of our ambition to ‘develop community action’ in the areas where healthy red squirrel populations are most under threat. When our current project phase began in 2017, there were just four groups on the map. Today we are supporting fourteen groups, spread across Dumfries & Galloway and the Scottish Borders. These groups are full of passionate, motivated and highly skilled people who are working collaboratively to ensure red squirrels in the south of Scotland have the long-term protection they need. We won’t rest until all our priority areas in the region are covered! Over the past year we have also received vital support from landowners, with more pledging to control grey squirrels on both a voluntary basis and under the Forestry Grant Scheme.
Our collective efforts are making a difference. Our most recent spring survey results showed that in most of our project areas red squirrel populations remain stable, despite the continued threat from grey squirrels and—in the south—outbreaks of deadly squirrelpox virus. In some areas red squirrels are even increasing their range, particularly in Aberdeen where a highly rigorous monitoring programme and popular community trap-loan scheme has successfully removed grey squirrels from much of the surrounding countryside. There’s always much excitement amongst the team when we receive reports of a red squirrel sighting close to Aberdeen city centre, and they’re becoming increasingly common. Most recently, one was spotted in Duthie Park. Could red squirrels soon become an urban species? There are certainly many people in Aberdeen who still hold fond memories of seeing them in their garden, some of whom are lucky enough to be seeing them return.
Sightings from members of the public form an important part of our population monitoring work. As well as complimenting the data we gather through our long-term survey work, sightings can provide a real-time update on the situation on the ground, alerting staff to problem areas and enabling them to take swift action. Submitting a sighting is one of the simplest things that anyone is Scotland can do to contribute to red squirrel conservation, and last year a record-breaking 8400 sightings were submitted to our website, scottishsquirrels.org.uk.
This Red Squirrel Week we’ve decided to try something a bit different. We’re still collecting squirrel sightings throughout the year, but we also want to gain a more detailed snapshot of the current situation. So we’ve launched the Great Scottish Squirrel Survey campaign. We’re asking people all over Scotland to take some time between 23-29 September to get outdoors, explore nature and keep a lookout for both red and grey squirrels.
You could go out to a well-known squirrel stomping ground and count the maximum number you can see. Or, take a look at our online sightings map to find an area of ideal squirrel habitat with no recent records. Either way you’ll be making a contribution.
Autumn is a fantastic time of year for a nation-wide squirrel survey. With leaves falling they can be easier to spot as they move through the treetops, foraging for the autumn harvest of seeds, nuts and berries. They will also be spending more time on the ground, building up stores of food in preparation for the colder months ahead.
Each sighting is verified by a conservation officer before being added to the Scottish Squirrel Database, so we expect the results to be published later in the year. In the meantime, you can share your Great Scottish Squirrel Survey stories and images with us on social media, using the #GreatScottishSquirrelSurvey hashtag to encourage others to get involved. Happy squirrel spotting!