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Red squirrel population at Ben Shieldaig in Wester Ross is 'thriving', says landowner the Woodland Trust following a reintroduction project by Highland conservation charity Trees for Life

By Philip Murray

Some of the red squirrels tuck into nuts at one of the feeding boxes near Shieldaig. Picture: The Woodland Trust.
Some of the red squirrels tuck into nuts at one of the feeding boxes near Shieldaig. Picture: The Woodland Trust.

RED squirrels are “thriving” on the slopes of Ben Shieldaig in Wester Ross following their successful introduction by conservationists.

Trees for Life introduced some of the native squirrels to the area around Shieldaig in 2016 as part of wider efforts to create ‘island’ sanctuaries - woodlands so far removed from other major tree cover that there is no chance of the invasive grey squirrel reaching the area and forcing them out.

A number of sites were identified by conservation group Trees for Life back in 2016 - including several in Ross-shire and the wider Highlands

And to mark Squirrel Appreciation Day today, the Woodland Trust, which bought Ben Shieldaig and more than 3800 acres of land in 2019 as part of its own conservation work, has posted video of the local squirrels enjoying their new-found home.

“We’ve set up trail cameras at Ben Shieldaig to capture some of the iconic wildlife,” said a spokesman for the Woodland Trust. “Thirty-three red squirrels were introduced to the site in 2016 by Trees for Life. From the early signs, it seems the local red squirrels are thriving!

“We’re going to be working with the local community, as they take on a more active role in monitoring and recording the squirrels.We’ll be setting up more cameras across the estate too.”

“Red squirrels are among our best loved woodland animals and our only native squirrel species, but their population has been in decline for decades.”

The decline is the result of the introduction of the bigger grey squirrel, which is native to North America. It does not attack the smaller native reds, but its larger size means it out-competes them for food.

A devastating squirrel pox virus, which the greys are immune to but reds are not, is also carried by the red’s invasive cousins.

To find out more about why reds are endangered, where you can spot them, and how you can help, visit The Woodland Trust’s website.

The Woodland Trust, meanwhile, has ambitious plans to expand the estate's remaining ancient pockets of Caledonian forest over the next 20 years as part of its own landscape restoration project. This should help provide even more habitat space for the reds to expand into in future years.

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