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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Plea to help save red squirrels
A red squirrel
Conservationists fear Scotland's red squirrels will be wiped out
More money is needed to protect Scotland's endangered red squirrel population, an MSP has said.

Deputy Scottish Conservative leader Murdo Fraser has called on the Scottish Government to provide funding for more wildlife control officers.

His comments coincided with the launch of a new survey of the species.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the environment minister was planning to meet relevant groups as soon as possible to discuss the issues.

As part of the national survey, conservationists want the public to report sightings of red squirrels, to help monitor population levels.

Conservationists fear Scotland's 121,000 red squirrels, which account for 75% of the UK's red squirrel population, could die out within 50 years.

The native animal's numbers have dropped dramatically as their woodland habitats have been lost.

Under pressure

They have also come under pressure from grey squirrels, which were brought to the UK from America in the late 1800s.

Grey squirrels out-compete the reds for food, and also carry and spread the deadly squirrel pox virus.

The first case of the disease in a red squirrel in Scotland was recorded in May this year.

Red squirrels are struggling and while we may be able to slow their decline, their future is in jeopardy
Stuart Brooks
SWT's head of conservation

Mr Fraser, MSP for Mid Scotland and Central Fife, said there needed to be "real commitment" from the Scottish government to protect the red squirrel.

He said: "Scotland is the principal stronghold of the red squirrel on mainland UK and we must do everything possible to protect it.

"The SNP Government must put in place funding to allow for more control officers and stop the spread of the grey squirrels and the squirrel pox virus.

"I believe that we need strong measures to stop the grey squirrels further encroaching on the reds' territory in Perthshire and Angus."

He added: "I will continue to campaign for the red squirrel until we see real commitment and real action taken to stop the spread of the grey squirrel."

Squirrel pox

The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) is to carry out a nationwide survey of the red squirrel population to coincide with National Red Squirrel Week, which starts on 30 September.

SWT's head of conservation, Stuart Brooks, said the native species was in serious danger of being wiped out from their Scottish "stronghold".

Red and grey squirrels
Native reds are coming under pressure from greys, right

He said: "Red squirrels are struggling and while we may be able to slow their decline, their future is in jeopardy in Britain particularly in light of the deadly virus which has now penetrated the reds in Scotland.

"Scotland remains a stronghold for reds and offers the best possibilities of seeing these charismatic creatures in the wild and at SWT's Loch of the Lowes Reserve in Perthshire visitors regularly see squirrels at the feeders right in front of the viewing window."

Mel Tonkin, Scottish Squirrel Survey co-ordinator said: "Red squirrels are an important part of Scotland's woodlands and whilst we know what is causing their decline, we need better information about where the squirrel 'hotspots' are in order to protect them."

The government spokeswoman said Scottish Natural Heritage's action plan contained practical measures to prevent grey squirrel encroachment into red squirrel habitat.

She said this included the trapping of grey squirrels in key areas and the conservation and management of stronghold areas where red squirrels could continue to flourish.

The squirrel pox virus can kill a red squirrel within 15 days of infection.

The disease has been found in 53 grey squirrels in Dumfries and Galloway, and about 27 in the Borders region.

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