Reported in the Berwickshire area only 18 months ago, Squirrel Pox which is a vicious disease carried by Grey Squirrels but usually fatal to Reds has already spread across the Scottish Borders region and into East Lothian. The desease gives blisters that abscess, usually on the face, making it impossible to feed and the animal starves to death. If it reaches the Central Belt, where there is a denser population of Greys, the carriers, the disease will be free to spread into the Highlands and north of Scotland.
There is a national red squirrel conservation initiative in place aimed at halting the decline of the UK’s core populations of red squirrels in Scotland. The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrel project is particularly tasked with the prevention of the spread of squirrel pox disease which arrived in southern Scotland seven years ago. The project has worked to reduce grey squirrel populations where the virus is circulating in the hope of preventing the disease from spreading to grey squirrels already in the Central Belt, and so northwards to grey squirrels that threaten to take over from Scotland’s core red squirrel populations.
Controlling Greys has a positive impact on the spread of the disease and the ability of Reds to live in areas where Greys are present, but this needs to be done soon, and efforts continued even if numbers of Greys caught drops away.
There have been grants available to assist with the control of Grey Squirrels through the SRDP scheme, where such applications satisfy a National Target and so have greater chance of success.
“Applications, particularly in significant numbers, would help to alert the Scottish Government to the level of feeling among the rural community to the plight of the Reds. It would also raise awareness of the issue with the authorities and could result in money being specifically allocated to squirrel applications” Said Patrick Playfair of surveyors Edwin Thompson. “It may even leave applicants first in line for whatever scheme replaces SRDP.” It is possible to apply for other biodiversity grants at the same time as the squirrel options and Patrick Playfair at Edwin Thompson should be contacted to discuss this further on 01289 304 432.
Starting to control Greys immediately would be ideal and readers should contact Karen Ramoo, Lead Project Officer for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, for access to traps, information on trapping, and possible people to contact for practical help with setting up and monitoring, if required. Karen’s contact details are telephone 01750 23446, mobile 07733 121838, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .