Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Safe haven plan for red squirrels

Red squirrel
There are thought to be about 120,000 red squirrels in Scotland

Nearly 400 squares miles of Scottish forest could soon be set aside as safe havens for red squirrels.

Plans have been announced for 18 "strongholds" providing ideal conditions for the red variety.

Older conifers preferred by reds would be retained with favourite food sources for rival greys - such as oak, beech, chestnut and hazel trees - restricted.

Greys venturing into the safe havens would be trapped under the Forestry Commission Scotland initiative.

The red squirrel is one of the most threatened mammals in the UK, with the non-native introduced grey squirrel being the primary threat through competition for food and squirrel pox infection.

It is hoped that over time these sites would become increasingly welcoming habitats for red squirrels.

Map of safe havens
Proposed safe haven sites

Launching a consultation on the project, Environment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said: "Strongholds are an important additional safeguard for the long-term survival of red squirrels in Scotland.

"Over time these sites will become increasingly welcoming habitats for red squirrels, but will remain of little interest to greys.

Forestry Commission Scotland would work in partnership with landowners and managers to create the safe havens, each at least seven square miles (2,000 ha) in size.

The proposed locations are: Ordiequish/Whiteash/Ben Aigan, Eredine, Culbin Forest, Inverliever, Kilmichael, Glentochty, Black Isle, South Rannoch, Glen Glass, Fleet Basin, Morangie Forest, Daviot Loch Moy, Inshriach and Glenfeshie, Leanachan, Balmoral to Inver, Eskdalemuir, Glenbranter, Abernethy/Nethy Bridge.

The Scottish Government recently announced plans to spend more than £1m over the next three years on saving Scotland's red squirrels and protecting routes into their northern strongholds.

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