Squirrel conservation has been a hot topic in Scotland for many years. Widely considered as the last stronghold for the native Red Squirrel, concerns remain about the spread of their American cousin, the introduced Grey Squirrel, and more worryingly, the squirrel pox virus, of which Greys are carriers but not sufferers. Upon contracting the virus, lesions grow around the eyes and mouth of the infected Red Squirrel, causing it to become lethargic as the symptoms develop, and almost always resulting in death in a wild environment within about 15 days.
The spread of squirrel pox has been closely monitored by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS), an organisation set up through Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) in response to the plight of our native species. Grey Squirrels have been systematically trapped throughout the country and blood samples have been taken to assess the spread of the virus, which to date has been recorded as far north as Ayrshire.
Our local area is of particular interest because without squirrel pox, and with Grey Squirrel control measures in place, we continue to see good numbers of both species frequenting wooded areas around the shores of Loch Leven. With more Greys trapped (23 in the last month), we are pleased to report that Reds are being seen more frequently, particularly around the west shore of the loch. On one morning while checking the traps at least 4 Red Squirrels were seen in the area, suggesting that they’ve had a successful year breeding and are making the most of the territory being vacated by the removal of Greys.
If you’re keen to see Red Squirrels locally, there are a couple of places that might be worth a look, including along the Heritage Trail beyond Kinross House, at the RSPB visitor centre on their feeders, in Levenmouth woods, or for any golfing naturalists out there, Kinross Golf Course is often a good place to look! SSRS are always keen for sightings of squirrels to be reported to them, wherever you happen to be in the country. For more information, or to report a sighting, visit their website.