Even though Scottish red squirrels, Scotland’s only native squirrel species, are declining in number, they can be spotted in Dumfries & Galloway in South West Scotland. If you’re a wildlife lover, this area also offers the chance to see many other species such as imposing red deer and majestic birds of prey that survey the land from above.
Scottish red squirrels – survival of the fittest
Scottish red squirrels are smaller and less robust than their cousin the grey squirrel. As a result, they are struggling in a battle of survival and are becoming an increasingly uncommon sight. The grey squirrel is the biggest threat to its survival.
Squirrel Pox – harmless to grey squirrels; fatal to Scottish red squirrels
Not only is the grey squirrel larger and more resilient, it also brings with it another problem. The grey squirrel brought to the UK in Victorian times has introduced squirrel pox to the squirrel population. This virus is harmless to greys but can prove fatal to its smaller cousin. Once widespread throughout Scotland, the Scottish red squirrels’ numbers are now declining.
Seventy-five per cent of the UK’s red squirrel population can be found in Scotland which equates to just 120,000 squirrels in total. Although a worryingly small number for a species that was once widespread, the good news for visitors to Dumfries and Galloway is that they are in the right place to spot one. Head to Eskrigg Nature Reserve near Lockerbie or Mabie Forest and you won’t be disappointed. We’re also very fortunate to have a breeding red squirrel population on our Park!
How can we help the Scottish red squirrel?
A vaccine for the squirrel pox virus is under development which would be a huge breakthrough for the species. Realistically though it seems likely that implementation of a widespread immunisation programme to prevent the decline of the red squirrel is several years away. Meantime measures are being taken to help protect them which include:
- Keeping the number of grey squirrels down to reduce competition for food and habitat as well as reduce the risk of exposure to the squirrel pox virus.
- Disinfection of feeding equipment. Those fortunate enough to have red squirrels visiting their gardens should ensure that feeding equipment is regularly disinfected to reduce the risk of disease spread.
- Remove feeding equipment if necessary. It may seem kind to leave food for visiting squirrels and indeed it is. However, if you have both red and grey squirrels visiting, all feeding equipment should be removed due to the high risk of squirrel pox being passed on from a grey squirrel to a vulnerable red squirrel.
For more information on the Scottish red squirrel, squirrel pox and other measures being taken to help them please visit https://scottishsquirrels.org.uk
Other Wildlife In Dumfries & Galloway
The red deer is one of the largest species of deer and synonymous with rural Scotland. They are more often associated with the Scottish highlands, however, a visit to the Red Deer Range in Dumfries and Galloway will let you get up close to these majestic beasts come rain or shine. You won’t need to let a wet day stop you from enjoying nature as you can get close to the shelter of a hide if need be. Why not pay a visit and see if you can spot some buzzards too while you’re there?
Whether you’d like to see birds of prey, wild swans or geese, you won’t be disappointed. Dumfries and Galloway is home to no less than five RSPB reserves and is home to the Galloway trail. The Galloway Kite Trail is a route which can be taken on foot or by bike in which you’ll be able to spot the spectacular red kite, a bird of prey reintroduced to the area in 2001.
For those of you visiting Dumfries and Galloway in winter the place to be is WWT – Caerlaverock Wetland centre. This is a destination spanning an impressive 1,400 acres and is home to an array of insects and animals from dragonflies to badgers. From a bird watchers point of view, it will be the osprey, wild swans, geese, waders, warblers and skylarks that will steal the show.
So, if you’d like to see Scottish red squirrels in their natural habitat, or want to see other impressive wildlife, come to Dumfries and Galloway and enjoy what nature is waiting to show you!