Greys moving north

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IT IS well-known that imported grey squirrels could, ultimately, wipe out Scotland’s red squirrel population.

And it is alarming to learn that there are currently reports of grey squirrels both north and south of Arbroath.

The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project is being run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust on a national scale. The purpose is to devise a strategy and practical means of protecting the red squirrels that remain in Scotland. 75 per cent of the UK’s red squirrels live north of the Border. This may be as few as 120,000.

The biggest threat to their survival as our native species has been the introduction of grey squirrels in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Grey squirrels are larger and both eat more food and have more young each year. They out-compete reds when they move into a woodland. Eventually red populations dwindle and disappear under this pressure.

In Tayside there is a clear line which can be drawn that depicts where the grey squirrels have reached over the decades since their release. It goes from Comrie all the way along to Brechin with a bulge up the Tay to Pitlochry.

In Aberdeen, unfortunately, greys were released in the late 20th century and began to spread out along the Dee and the Don.

The project is making great efforts to contain this spread and to reduce their numbers in the city itself.

From genetic sampling it appears that the greys in Aberdeenshire and those moving up through Angus are actually two different bloodlines.

Those in Aberdeen appear to have been brought from England at some point in the past. The threat is multiplied by this as breeding will be intensified if the two populations meet (gardeners will understand the term ‘hybrid vigour’) and potentially cause a boom that will spread into Deeside. To prevent this a big effort must be made to keep them apart.

This involves monitoring and trapping of greys where they turn up in North Angus and South Aberdeenshire.

It is vital that their movement in these areas is controlled to prevent them gaining a foothold and threatening the healthy red population. Local estates and farms are playing a big part in supporting the project in its work but it also needs the aid of the whole community.

Anyone who sees squirrels of either species can help by reporting their sightings at www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reportsquirrel<http://www.scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reportsquirrel>

If greys are spotted, a ‘phone call to either Ken Neil, 01382 611028, or Stephen Willis, 01224 266526, will be appreciated.