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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 06:56 GMT
Plans to protect red squirrels
Red squirrel
Efforts are being made to protect red squirrels
Conservationists have come up with a plan to prevent the decline of the red squirrel in Scotland.

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

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

In the last 50 years the species has experienced a widespread decline.

The new strategy aims to improve habitat, establish a local squirrel group network and maintain a national database of records.

Grey squirrel
The grey squirrel is among the threats to the red squirrel

Mammals specialist at Scottish Natural Heritage, Mairi Cole, said: "Red squirrels in Scotland continue to be threatened, particularly by development, woodland management and competition from the grey squirrel.

"This strategy will help us to focus on areas where we can maximise our efforts to protect this endangered species and sets out clear ways of working with foresters and other groups which can help red squirrels survive."

Despite their high profile, red squirrels are under-recorded in a large part of the country, but it is known that about 75% (121,000 animals) of the UK population, are based in Scotland.

Forestry Commission Scotland conservator, Alex Morris, said: "The contribution that foresters and landowners continue to make to managing the woodland habitat to favour red squirrels, and also controlling competing grey squirrels in woodlands, is crucial to the long-term future of red squirrels in Scotland.

"The strategy moves us in the direction of identifying where such work is going to be most effective and should engender even more close working between forest managers and local groups to conserve these important red squirrel populations."

BBC Scotland's Alan Grant
"Protecting their habitat has become a priority"

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