Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Wednesday, 15 October 2008 11:38 UK

City fights to save red squirrels

By Denise Glass
Tayside reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Red Squirrel (pic: Jimmie Reid)
Dundee claims to be the only city with a resident population of red squirrels

Across Dundee there is a dedicated group of people who are fighting a tough battle - to protect the city's red squirrels.

It is claimed that Dundee is the only city in the UK to house the animals within its boundaries - although that is disputed by some in other parts.

However, despite long and dedicated efforts Dundee is facing the same problem which can be seen across the UK - the invasion of the greys.

But local people are not giving up and there has been evidence of the animals returning to areas where they had been scarce.

Ken Neil, from the Dundee Red Squirrel project, explains: "We like to make a claim that we're the only city with red squirrels because we actually have red squirrels which are down inside the city itself.

"We've had reports of them recently turning up in the botanic gardens again and lately we've had photographic evidence of them on Balgay Hill.

"But there are other places that would claim that they do get visits - there's Inverness, possibly Aberdeen and peculiarly Newcastle.

"So they might dispute it, be we'll say well come and prove it - we can show you pictures."

Grey squirrel control has been taking place in Dundee for some time - Mr Neil praises the work of the city gamekeeper and the pest control team who are involved in trapping and shooting the animals.

Squirrels (pic: Jimmie Reid)
Efforts to control the greys have been taking place for many years

Through the recording work that is done in the city, it is estimated that there are about 100 reds in Dundee, however the teams are killing about about 300-350 greys every year and there are always more ready to take their place.

Mr Neil said: "We've got buffer zones around the main red hotspots where we do active grey control and that takes the pressure off because there are a lot of greys round about Broughty Ferry and Monifieth.

"Coming in from the west there are lots of greys in Perth and they come along the Carse of Gowrie.

"So the problem with Balgay was that traditionally they had red squirrels only up 'til about 15/16 years ago, but the greys started to move in."

A trapping session also takes place around Liff Hospital every year and private individuals are also involved.

However, Mr Neil is concerned that some people do not understand that if a grey is trapped it must then be killed.

He said: "Grey squirrels are by law pest animals and therefore if you catch a grey squirrel you are legally obliged to dispatch it.

"We have suspicions that people have been catching grey squirrels in their gardens because they do a bit of destruction to bird feeders and we've even had instances of them chewing through boards and getting into people's lofts and chewing through electrical cable.

"We're slightly concerned that people have been trapping them in traps and bringing them up to the park and letting them go and it's illegal to do that.

"People must understand that if they're catching greys they actually have to either contact someone who can dispose of them or do it themselves - that's the hard facts of the law."

Red Squirrel (pic: Jimmie Reid)
A red squirrel sanctuary has been set up on the outskirts of Dundee

A few miles outside of Dundee, Jimmie and Rosie Reid run the Muirhead Red Squirrel Sanctuary. They fund the facility by selling animal calendars every year.

Mr Reid said: "The four acres [we have] are made up of mixed woodland, it's conifer and deciduous and we feed the squirrels and the deer and the hedgehogs every day.

"The biggest expense we have is the hazelnuts, they love their peanuts and seed and things, but hazelnuts have a dual benefit to them - it's got a high nutritional value, but they get the benefit of sharpening their teeth by having to break into it through the shell.

"We've built some shelters and some feeders which are grey squirrel proof - we helped develop those with the college and Ken Neil - and we found a size the grey squirrels can't get into but the reds can get in and out with easy access."

Mr Reid believes that one of the best ways of saving red squirrels would be protecting the forests where they live.

He said: "Where you have a badger set or a resident badger then the habitat becomes protected as well as the animal.

"Although the red squirrel is protected by law their habitat still isn't.

"So if there was something I had to say to a politician I would say - here's a resource that we're so lucky still to have in Scotland, if we don't look after it it'll be gone very soon. So why can't we protect their habitat as well as them?"

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06 Oct 08 |  Highlands and Islands
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27 Aug 08 |  South of Scotland
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25 Apr 08 |  Highlands and Islands


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