Scottish Borders Groups Bank National Funding

Sep 16, 2020 | General News

Red Squirrel Survival Trust grants game-changing funding to Southern Scottish volunteer groups to help save the native species.

In times of environmental urgency, the Red Squirrels Forum for South Scotland was delighted to be awarded significant funding to enhance the work of their conservation efforts. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust, a national charity working to prevent extinction of this endangered species, has announced that a grant of £14,120 will be donated to the umbrella group to buy important thermal imaging equipment and trail cameras. Covering 18 Red Squirrel conservation groups and 350 volunteers from Galloway to Berwick, this technology will be distributed across the Scottish Borders region to increase the capacity of volunteers to detect, manage and survey areas with Red Squirrel populations.

Dr Peter Garson, a board member of the Forum and volunteer who took the lead in putting forward the project for funding, was thrilled with the news and commented on the impact of the grant:

“This is absolutely ground breaking for our Red Squirrel volunteers. It is the most important thing to happen in South Scotland for years, as both thermal imagers and trail cameras enable us to detect squirrels much more efficiently. Cameras work all day, every day, effectively doing the work of many volunteers but reducing time in the field. By increasing survey capacity, we can be better in all aspects of our work to save red squirrel populations. This kit means we can quickly survey new areas of woodland for both squirrel species, rapidly identifying hotspots for reds and finding key locations under threat from greys.”

Thermal imagers are frequently referred to as ‘game-changers’ by those active in red squirrel conservation, because they enhance detection so dramatically. As a result, they reduce the time required per area of woodland to carry out reliable surveys of red squirrel population distribution and abundance. They also increase the likelihood of spotting grey squirrels for threat management, as well as greatly enhancing the quality of guided walks and other public events.

Peter continues: “This award is a huge pledge of faith for our ongoing campaign and the grant will make huge strides in raising public awareness. Imagers and trailcams are novel to most people and fun to use, so we expect to be able to engage better with both residents and visitors to our region. We will also be able to create more reliable squirrel spotting guided routes. This will help spread the word more generally and hopefully recruit yet more volunteers to our cause.”

Red Squirrels are an endangered native species and have been almost completely pushed out of their Southern habitats, with numbers now standing at 140,000 after an all-time high of 3.5 million. The RSST is a leader in national efforts to promote species conservation and is working hard with volunteer groups to solidify red squirrel strongholds where remaining populations need protection. Grey squirrels threaten native populations because of the transmission of the fatal Squirrel Pox virus, their well-documented destruction of trees and commercial forestry, and from their colonisation of habitats that red squirrels rely on to survive.

Dr Craig Shuttleworth, a leading authority on red squirrel conservation, fully supported the bid and the charity’s decision to issue the grant to the Forum:

“As a national organisation, RSST want to make the biggest impact they can in all four corners of the British Isles. South Scotland is a key area, so the scope of this proposal in terms of the geographical reach, the number of volunteers benefiting, and the potential conservation gains made this funding a very attractive project. Providing this equipment will deliver gains well into the future in terms of surveys and monitoring, grey squirrel control, and public engagement. These are the three pillars that will decide the future of Red Squirrel survival in the years to come.”

The news of this grant will provide further energy in the run up to this year’s National Red Squirrel Awareness Week from 21st to 27th September 2020. The annual campaign seeks to raise awareness of conservation activities, and why red squirrels need to be protected nationally. To engage the population in these efforts, the RSST and the UK Squirrel Accord have scheduled two webinars with key professionals in the endangered wildlife space for an UK Update on Red Squirrel Conservation, and a Seminar on Grey Squirrel Damage.

The 10 thermal imaging scopes and 120 trail cameras will provide critical momentum to collaborative efforts in Scotland to protect areas which are strategically essential to Red Squirrel conservation. The Forum shows how partnerships across the environmental landscape are at the centre of delivering demonstrable results, and in the context of an ecological emergency, projects such as this will be vital to the long-term future of the UK’s wildlife populations.

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