The conservation of one of Scotland’s most loved wild animals has been given a boost.
A network of volunteer-led red squirrel protection groups will be set up, with the aim of securing the survival of the species in Scotland, thanks to Scottish Wildlife Trust securing £37,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The trust says the groups are an important part of a programme of protection work required to secure the long-term survival of the remaining core red squirrel populations.
The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project aims to raise awareness of the threats to red squirrels, holding red squirrel events, encouraging public involvement in red squirrel conservation and training hundreds of volunteers.
Once widespread, red squirrels have undergone a catastrophic population decline primarily due to competition and disease from the non-native invasive, American grey squirrel.
There are now only around 160,000 red squirrels remaining in the UK with 75% of the remaining UK red squirrel population found in Scotland. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels was formed to reverse this decline.
Project manager of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Dr Mel Tonkin, said: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support.
“Our work over the last seven years has shown that it is possible to reverse the decline of our much-loved red squirrels and safeguard them for future generations, but to do this we need to keep up the protection work for a long time to come.
“People love red squirrels – we want to harness that enthusiasm and get communities involved in their conservation. This Heritage Lottery Fund grant will give us the chance to share our expertise with a range of people who are passionate about their local red squirrel population.”
Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “Catching a glimpse of an elusive red squirrel is a magical experience.
“Thanks to players of the National Lottery we are able to give our initial support to a project which will protect this rare creature.
“By working together, communities will give red squirrels the best chance of survival, so that their antics are a source of delight for all long into the future.”
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