More than 100 red squirrels could die after the Duke of Buccleuch’s 300,000-acre Queensberry estate, in Dumfries and Galloway, was recently struck by Scotland’s largest ever outbreak of squirrel pox.

To date, 16 red squirrels have been confirmed as having contracted the disease, 11 of these in the past three weeks. However, red squirrel conservationists say this is likely to represent just 10 per cent of the total number of reds that have died.

The squirrel pox virus is harmless to humans and the grey squirrels that carry it, but is fatal to the UK’s native red squirrel, causing death within two weeks. Most dying red squirrels would return to their dreys or would be eaten by predators after the pox rendered them blind and defenceless.

It is thought the pox has spread so rapidly through the red squirrels at the estate because staff and members of the public have been feeding them. As a result they have come into contact with each other more frequently than they would in the wild, accelerating the transmission of the pox.

The rest of this article appears in 2nd July issue of Shooting Times.

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