Threats to Scotland's Red Squirrels

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Abstract

THE red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is one of Scotland’s “big five” must-see wild
animals. Acrobatic, handsome, endearing and charismatic are all fitting adjectives to describe this iconic creature – so much so, a sighting is virtually guaranteed to feature among the many highlights of a Scotland trip, along with the few other parts of the UK that continue to provide them with sanctuary.
The red squirrel can be found across much of Western Europe, but tends to appear darker on the continent. To see the reddest squirrels and enjoy them in their native pine forests, you are best advised to visit Scotland.
The red squirrel population has suffered terribly in the UK since the introduction of the larger grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). This native of North America was brought into the UK in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as an attractive addition to parklands. As is the case with many unwitting introductions, this proved to be a disaster. The grey squirrel was able to outcompete the
smaller, more specialised red squirrel across much of its range. Consequently, the red squirrel has been pushed back into its strongholds. These include certain islands that have remained grey squirrel-free, including Brownsea Island in
Poole Harbour.
The red squirrel’s stronghold, however, is Scotland, where approximately 75 per cent of the 160,000 left in the UK reside. This is where the battle to preserve the red squirrel from extinction is being conducted by a consortium of organisations, including the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, Red Squirrel Survival Trust, Scottish Land and Estates, and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
This article will give an overview of the multitude of threats facing the red squirrel, together with a critique of how we understand and interpret this story.

Keywords

  • Red Squirrels
  • Grey Squirrels
  • Constructs
  • Threats

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