Effective control of greys will be critical in stopping squirrelpox spreading among Scotland’s red squirrels, according to Scottish Natural Heritage


Using mathematical modeling, experts from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, have mapped the likely spread of squirrelpox and where best to focus conservation efforts to stop the disease having a devastating effect on red squirrel populations. The report, published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) also focuses on action to be taken in 18 red squirrel “stronghold sites” identified by the Forestry Commission Scotland, the surrounding areas of which have seen cases of squirrelpox.

Mathematics professor Andy White explained that, in these strongholds, “although red squirrel populations may experience occasional squirrelpox disease outbreaks that lead to localised population crashes, squirrelpox will ‘burn-out’ rapidly and some reds will avoid infection. The red squirrel populations will then return to pre-infection densities provided grey squirrels are kept at very low levels in these forests through on-going control.”

Ron Macdonald, director of policy and advice at SNH, said: “Red squirrels were voted Scotland’s second favourite animal in last year’s Big 5 vote with many people regularly seeing them. However, they are under pressure from competition with grey squirrels and from squirrelpox which is spreading northwards. This report provides us with valuable information on how best to protect important populations of red squirrels in the face of the increasing spread of squirrelpox.”

The report also praises the efforts of those who have worked to contain the disease since it was first spotted in Scotland in 2005, including gamekeepers, landowners, forest rangers and the staff and volunteers of the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project, which is a partnership between the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and Red Squirrel Survival Trust.

To read the report in full, visit http://bit.ly/10qzC7i.