Page last updated at 00:51 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

Highland boost to red squirrels

Red squirrel
Thirty-two squirrels have been released on the estate.

A Highland estate has undertaken an experimental project designed to re-establish red squirrels in the north Wester Ross area.

Red squirrels have been absent from the north and west Highlands for about 30 years.

Thirty-two have now been relocated to woodland on the 33,000 acre Dundonnell Estate, near Ullapool.

Red squirrels are under threat from non-native greys which carry a virus which is lethal to reds.

The Dundonnell project was instigated by the estate's owner, the lyricist, Sir Tim Rice.

It was put together by wildlife consultant, Roy Dennis. He was given a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to trap 50 squirrels from a number of locations in the East Highlands and move them to the Dundonnell Estate.

Some squirrels were placed in individual nest boxes located in the woodlands for immediate release into the wild, and others were released after spending a short time in large aviaries in the woods getting used to their new surroundings.

Mr Dennis explained: "It is hoped that this translocation will help ensure a viable population in this part of Scotland and a refuge for the reds in the face of the march northwards of the grey squirrel."

SNH said that while the project was "encouraging" it was "very much experimental" and it would need to examine the results carefully before making decisions about other projects.

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