Red Squirrel Re-wilding in the Highlands

The new squirrel hide that was set up in Brodick castle gardens over the summer has thrilled visitors, providing both a great place for some of the island’s squirrels to feed and play, and a brilliant viewing place to watch the creatures feisty antics. While Arran’s red squirrel population can thrive in relative undisturbed safety, their brothers and sisters across the water have a much harder time trying to survive.

Squirrel hide at Brodick castle. Image by Robin McKelvie

To help the red squirrel’s plight in Scotland and to make sure their populations can thrive, the organisation Tree’s for Life are introducing a re-wilding programme in specific areas to help them flourish.

Red squirrels are at risk of extinction in the UK – but Trees for Life’s pioneering Reds Return project offers hope for their long-term survival in their last real stronghold of Scotland. Most of Scotland’s reds – 75% of the UK population – are concentrated in the Highlands, with interconnected populations right across the region, where the greys are largely unheard of.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust fought a long campaign along the Border to keep out English greys, which carry squirrel pox, a disease that is part of the mechanism by which greys replace reds. The greys suffer no symptoms but it crushes red populations; the greys then move in to the empty territory and it’s lost to the reds.

Reintroducing reds to four carefully chosen Highland woodlands – to which they can’t return without help, as they avoid crossing large open spaces – will significantly expand their numbers and range. These new populations will be able to flourish, safe from grey squirrels.

This iconic species of Scotland’s majestic pinewoods can be saved – Trees for Life has already reintroduced red squirrels to a small number of locations, where they have been successfully breeding and spreading into wider areas. The project will also help expand Scotland’s native woodlands, as red squirrels plant new trees by forgetting where they have buried their winter stores of nuts and seeds.