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Royal Deeside : Red Squirrels

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One of the delights of Royal Deeside is the presence of red squirrels. Once widespread throughout the UK, their numbers have been steadily declining so that Royal Deeside is one of the last places where they can be seen frequently. (Indeed, in areas where the squirrels are plentiful drivers are asked to drive with care so as to protect them.)

Smaller, and more appealing, than the (American) grey squirrel they are best suited to pine forests. However, they can be seen in many domestic gardens raiding the nuts put out for the birds.

The article below is an extract from one published in 'The Blether' a newsletter produced for residents of West Aberdeenshire.

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Red Squirrel A red squirrel stealing food from a bird table

A distinctive russet red coat, beautiful bushy tail and prominent ear tufts make the red squirrel one of Britain's most well loved mammals. Despite it's popularity, you may have never seen one for they are elusive and spend much time up in the tree canopy. Tell tale signs of their presence include scratches on the bark of trees and chewed pine cones. They build nests (dreys) at least 5m up in the trees and will often share these with other squirrels. In the Spring they produce 2-3 kittens. They are seed eaters: favourite nibbles include scots pine, larch and spruce cones but their diet also includes fungi, shoots, fruit and the occasional bird egg. They do not hibernate and will store fungi in trees to eat over winter.

Reds Under Threat
The red squirrel was once so prominent in Britain that it was considered a pest. Today it faces an uncertain future. It is extinct across large areas of England and there are now thought to be only 160,000 red squirrels left in the UK including 120,000 in Scotland.

Loss of habitat, disease and road deaths have all contributed to this decline. The biggest threat, however, is the American grey squirrel. First introduced to Chester in 1876, it's numbers have escalated to 2.6 million. The grey is a larger animal and can feed more efficiently from broad-leaved woodlands. It can also feed on seeds such as hazel and acorn before they are fully ripe, thus skipping ahead of the reds in the dinner queue. This has spelt disaster for our red squirrel. It is thought that where greys move in on an area supporting reds, the latter will be ousted within 20-30 years

Here in the North East there are strong populations of reds. The pinewoods of Deeside and Donside offer prime habitat for these creatures, as do many of the commercial plantations. Reds exist alongside greys in the broad-leaved woodlands in and around the city but it is not clear how long they can maintain a presence there.

GRAMPIAN RED SQUIRREL GROUP was formed in 1999 comprising government bodies such as the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, private landowners (including the National Trust) and interested individuals. They, along with the Local Biodiversity Action Plan, are working towards maintaining populations of red squirrel in Scotland's North East.

Feeding Squirrels
In some parts of the country red squirrels' food has been supplemented. Nature Conservation Organisations here in the North East, however, recognise that this approach has several disadvantages. Populations of red squirrel may be elevated to artificially high numbers. The squirrels become dependent on this extra food. If this were to stop then they would certainly be at a disadvantage. Red squirrels are naturally timid and spend much of their time in the canopy. Enticing them down to feed alters their natural behaviour and puts them at risk of predation by foxes and cats. The most sustainable long-term approach for red squirrels is to manage the woodlands and adapt them more for their needs.

Why not visit one of the many woodlands around the North East where red squirrels are present? If you're lucky you may spot a flash of red in the tree tops. Squirrels are at their most active a few hours after dawn so you might have to get up early. Some good spots to visit include Scolty Woods, Benachie, Cambus o' May, Culbin and Durris, though there are many more in the area.

For more advice on this or other biodiversity issues
Tel: 01224 711120 or email: hazel.connolly@aberdeenshire.gov.uk

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Introduction Journey through Deeside A Dram of Whisky 1 A Dram of Whisky 2 Forests and Woodlands Lochnagar
The River Dee Red Squirrels Craigendarroch Hill, Ballater Clachnaben by Banchory Braemar Weather  




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