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Last Updated: Monday, 4 October, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
Red squirrels get their own tsar
Red squirrel
The red squirrel population has suffered a widespread drop
A red squirrel tsar has been appointed by Scottish Natural Heritage to help increase numbers.

The new "champion" will work with red squirrel enthusiasts across Scotland but is also appealing for help from the wider public.

The official title of Mel Tonkin's new job is Scottish Squirrel Survey Co-ordinator.

Scotland is home to about three-quarters of the UK's entire population of red squirrels.

It means that Dr Tonkin will be in charge of about 121,000 of the animals, but their numbers are declining every year.

Her job is to find out where the remaining red squirrels are and work out what can be done to protect them.

Grey invaders

Dr Tonkin stressed that red squirrels were losing ground every year to grey invaders and in the last century they lost much of their habitat due to tree felling.

Conservationists earlier this year came up with a plan to prevent the decline of the red squirrel in Scotland.

Twenty-five refuges were being created in large coniferous plantations, a habitat which is disliked by the rival grey squirrel.

The plan was devised by the Scottish Squirrel Group, which includes the Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and other bodies.

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