In 2016, Trees for Life set out on a groundbreaking mission with the aim of securing a future for one of the UK's most adored mammals, the red squirrel. Our Red Squirrel Project Manager Becky Priestley began by translocating squirrels from healthy, thriving populations in Moray and Inverness-shire to carefully selected native woodlands in the Torridon and Lochalsh area. These early translocations proved successful, with squirrels breeding at the reintroduction sites and expanding their range throughout the wider woodlands. The second series of translocations in 2019 brought four new healthy red squirrel populations to woodland habitats in Attadale, Spinningdale, Lochaline and Golspie.
Red squirrels are at risk of extinction in the UK. They are threatened by the reduction of their native forest habitat to isolated fragments and the increasing prevalence of grey squirrels, which carry the lethal squirrel pox. Our pioneering Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project offers hope for the long-term survival of this iconic woodland creature. Since 2016, Trees for Life has relocated 189 healthy red squirrels to safe havens in ten native pinewoods around the northern Highlands, where they are thriving, far from the reach of grey squirrels and disease.
Species translocation is a complex task requiring skilled wildlife handlers, veterinary expertise and a lot of patience. Once a healthy squirrel population has been identified, humane traps are attached to trees and baited with nuts so that the squirrels become accustomed to entering them. Then on the morning of each translocation day, the traps are set and carefully monitored for the arrival of hungry squirrels. Only a few traps will be set to ensure that each squirrel can be carefully health checked before being transferred into a wooden box filled with natural bedding and a supply of food. Healthy squirrels are transported to an area of woodland identified as suitable habitat, far beyond the range of greys. Before long, they will venture out to explore their new woodland home and forage for local food supplies.
Key to the success of these squirrel translocations is the involvement of people who live near the receiving woodlands. Trees for Life engages with local schools and communities through a series of woodland walks and workshops to inspire and inform people about the importance of protecting red squirrels. We aim to give people the skills and tools needed to monitor the new red squirrels in their local area. So far, there have been numerous reports of sightings indicating that red squirrels are thriving in their new woodland homes.
We are now beginning the third series of translocations to further expand the range of red squirrels and bolster their numbers. Four different native woodland habitats are being assessed, where around 80 red squirrels will be setting up their homes. In these new safe-havens, the red squirrels will be able to grow their populations to a level where they have the natural resilience and genetic diversity they need to ensure a sustainable future.
We would like to thank the community volunteer squirrel rangers, the European Outdoor Conservation Association, the People's Trust for Endangered Species, our incredible donors and everyone who supported our Big Give: Red Squirrels Return campaign. Your generosity is helping red squirrels survive and thrive.