1. ITV Report

Red squirrels in Scotland

A red squirrel posing for the camera Photo: ITV News Border

The red squirrel population in Scotland and the rest of the UK has declined dramatically in the last century, and the threat from grey squirrels in increasing daily.

The south of Scotland is one of the last remaining strongholds for the species in Britain.

  • There are currently around 121,000 red squirrels left in Scotland today.
  • Almost 75% of UK red squirrel population is found in Scotland.
  • Red squirrels are a lot smaller than greys and are typically around 270g and 340 g in weight.
  • Red squirrels mainly eat tree seeds, but in spring and early summer they also eat the buds, flowers and shoots of both deciduous and coniferous trees
  • The red squirrel is classed as a native species to the UK. The first evidence of the red squirrel in Britain appears at the end of the last Ice Age (10,000 years ago).
  • Red squirrels were once the only squirrel species in Britain and were widely distributed.

The spread of grey squirrels is the main threat to survival of the red squirrel and the main reason for their huge decline in Britain.

Grey squirrels are more successful than reds at sourcing food and habitat, they are larger and more robust, and can digest seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, more efficiently.

Grey squirrels can also carry squirrelpox virus (SQPV), which causes severe clinical disease and mortality in red squirrels- but doesn't seem to affect the grey carriers.

The deadly squirrelpox virus is confined to seven main river corridors in South Scotland: the Liddel, the Esk, the Nith, the Annan, the Tweed, the Blackadder and the Whiteadder.

Red Squirrels in the South of Scotland have joined forces with Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels to form a conservation scheme.

How can you help?

Several squirrel monitoring programmes are in place to help collect data on the distribution of red and grey squirrels in the south of Scotland.

You can report your squirrel sightings here.