Calling all Secret Squirrels.
Image Scottish Wildlife Trust
At the beginning of the year, we were contacted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust to see if we could develop Kilmahew Estate into a sanctuary for red squirrels. They are, to my mind a symbol of Scotland, the only native squirrel species and Scotland's most loved animal, besides the Highland cattle of course, so we jumped at the chance. The flame coloured squirrels had been sighted at nearby Darleith Farm and all the way through to Auchensail, tantalisingly close to Kilmahew Farm and Kilmahew Estate.The squirrels seemed to have a small group north of Balloch on the shores of the Loch and appear to be using the Stoneymollan Road as passage across Darleith Muir towards us. So near but not quite there yet.
For many years the red squirrel population has been in decline, so anything the Kilmahew Education Trust could do to help restore these beloved animals, we were willing to do. Many years ago Stuart and I lived a short distance away from the National Trust's Formby site which is one of just 17 red squirrel strongholds in the North of England so our NT membership was extremely useful in getting to know these particularly lovely little creatures and forming a deep desire to protect them. When the chance to become a protectorate and stronghold for Red Squirrels was presented to us we had very little hesitation and a great deal of anticipation.
The greatest threat to the red is its larger, more adaptable and stronger grey cousin. Unfortunately grey squirrels compete with the reds for food and shelter and as this fight for resources becomes inevitable, greys will dominate their smaller cousins. As the food becomes a scarcity for red squirrels, they are unable to either breed or raise their young and so the decline continues. According to The Scottish Wildlife Trust, red squirrels can be completely replaced in a matter of 15 years or sooner.
During Victorian times, the grey squirrel was introduced to our shores as decoration for stately homes and gardens. Little did they realise that it would extend its range of foraging beyond the borders of the stately garden walls and have such a devastating effect on our native breed. As well as competition for food and shelter, some grey squirrels carried Squirrelpox with them. It is a virus that is deadly to the red squirrel population, as they have no immunity and will usually die within two weeks. This coupled with competition is creating a devastating toll on the numbers of red squirrels.
So how can you help? The Kilmahew Education Trust is working with Saving Scotland's Red Squirrel campaign in order to help create habitats for the red squirrels to thrive. In order to do this we need to monitor the population of both red and grey squirrels on the Kilmahew Estate. We are asking the public to be aware of potential squirrels in the area and to report a sighting @www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk It doesn't matter if the sighting is not on the Kilmahew Estate, we need to log any squirrels in the area. In order to identify the difference between these two, we have compiled a handy checklist.
Image Cottage Life/ Seawhisper
Red squirrels have ear tufts typically during the colder months but they can be present all year round.
A red squirrel's tail is dense, bushy and mainly a solid colour. Although the red colouration is not always a signal it is a red squirrel.
Size, a red squirrel is approximately 19 to 23 cms from head to foot and usually between 270 to 360 grams in weight. It appears more agile and lean.
Image Scottish Wildlife Trust
Grey Squirrels don't have ear tufts, they have rounded more mouse like ears.
A Grey squirrel's tail has many different tones and often has a 'halo' of white around the edges of it.
Size, a grey squirrel is approximately 25 to 30 cms from its head to its toes and usually between 400 and 720 grams in weight. It is stockier and larger than the red squirrel.
Please could you keep an eye out for our little furry friends and report all your red and grey sightings to www.scottishsquirrels.org.uk