Scottish Squirrel Group

The Scottish Squirrel Group (SSG) is a forum to co-ordinate red squirrel conservation activities in Scotland and was established in 1996. It is currently co-chaired by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). The Scottish Squirrel Group comprises a number of statutory and non-statutory organisations, together with representatives of local voluntary squirrel groups dedicated to conserving red squirrels within their area.

Recent minutes from the Scottish Squirrel Group

Key policies and issues

The Scottish Strategy for Red Squirrel Conservation was updated in June 2015 and provides a framework for red squirrel conservation action across Scotland, identifying activities that will contribute to red squirrel conservation on both local and national levels.

Red squirrels were identified as a species for Action in the SNH Species Action Framework and the Scottish Red Squirrel Action Plan 2006-2011 (PDF-180K) was published in 2006.

In 2011 FCS and SNH produced a joint agency statement on red squirrel conservation (PDF-2000K). Further information on red squirrel conservation priorities and key actions can be found on the FCS ‘Conserving Scotland’s Red Squirrels’ webpage. See also Strategic documents for red squirrel conservation in Scotland (PDF-32K).

The main threads of conservation action for red squirrels in Scotland under these initiatives are outlined below. All involve elements of monitoring, research and awareness-raising.

Habitat management

Landscape of Carron valley
Highland landscape of Carron valley provides a home for a variety of wildlife such as wildcat, pine marten, and red squirrel

Habitat management is recognised as key to the long term conservation management of red squirrels. Although they can be found in native woodland, conifer plantations now host some of the largest red squirrel populations.

In 2004 a report was published listing 124 ‘Priority woodlands for red squirrel conservation’. These were typically woodlands with good populations of red squirrels.

In 2009 FCS carried out a consultation to identify a suite of red squirrel populations that are defendable from the threats posed by grey squirrels. The 18 sites identified in both public and private ownership, plus Arran are referred to as ‘Strongholds’. These Strongholds will be the focus of targeted habitat management for red squirrels. Habitat management principles have been developed and individual site plans will be produced with support from FCS.

Targeted grey squirrel control

SNH sought the public’s views on grey squirrel control for the purpose of red squirrel conservation and produced a consultation report (PDF-306K).  It concluded that there is support for grey squirrel control as a temporary measure alongside long-term measures such as habitat management. The objectives of grey squirrel control vary geographically depending on the red squirrel population status; preventing the spread of greys into red only areas, to benefit red squirrels in areas of overlap, to prevent the spread of disease and to push back or eradicate grey squirrels where this is feasible. Priority areas for grey squirrel control have been identified and these are the subject of current action through the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project.

Disease containment

The first case of squirrel pox was recorded in Scotland in 2005. Since then a partnership of SNH, the Southern Uplands Partnership, Red Squirrels in South Scotland Project (RSSS) and Red Alert South West Scotland have supported grey squirrel control to contain disease outbreaks and to monitor the spread of the disease. Work is also ongoing to develop a vaccine.

Red squirrel projects

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project (SSRS)

SSRS is a 3 year partnership project between the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates (previously the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association). The Project is active in 3 areas; NE Scotland, Tayside and Argyll & Trossachs and with links to sister projects in South Scotland and the Highlands, aims to co-ordinate a programme of practical measures to halt the decline of red squirrels.

Red Squirrels in South Scotland (RSSS)

The RSSS Project aims to promote management of forests for red squirrels in 24 woodlands in the South of Scotland, co-ordinates a programme of grey squirrel control, operates a trap loan scheme and is closely involved with the squirrel pox surveillance programme. RSSS has merged with SSRS to form a national red squirrel conservation scheme.

Red Squirrels of the Highlands

The highlands are one of the few remaining areas of the UK that are free from grey squirrels. Red squirrels of the Highlands, Feoragan Ruadh na Gaidhealtachd, is a 3 year project funded by Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Highland Red Squirrel Group and Cairngorms National Park Authority to encourage the conservation of red squirrels within the Highlands of Scotland.  This is part of the See Red Highland partnership which links all squirrel interests in the Highlands. A key area of work is monitoring red populations, raising awareness and carrying out surveillance to ensure that grey squirrels do not become established.

Fife Red Squirrel Project (FRSG)

FRSG was established in 2006 by the Fife Countryside Ranger Service to address the need for a co-ordinated approach to red squirrel conservation in Fife. 2011 saw the start of the second phase, a three-year community-based project focusing on nine key woodland sites for red squirrels. The group aims to promote red squirrel conservation within Fife by raising the profile of red squirrels through education, surveying and monitoring, advocating targeted and responsible control of grey squirrels, creating new habitat and providing habitat management advice.

Scottish Squirrel Group members

These include:

Local red squirrel groups

There is widespread support for red squirrel conservation in Scotland, reflected in the number of local volunteer groups which have been established.  Many groups have dedicated websites where you can find more information on local initiatives.