It’s been a busy summer for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. Earlier this year it was announced that the project had been awarded a grant of £2.46 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, for an exciting new endeavour called ‘Developing Community Action’.
Alongside work to control grey squirrel numbers in strategic areas, and slow the impact of the squirrelpox virus, this five-year phase has a particular focus on engaging with local communities, as well as landowners, with the aim of recruiting many more volunteers across the country. From joining in trapping efforts to participating in surveys, to running children’s activities at events, volunteers of all backgrounds will be helping to ensure our red squirrels continue to have a home in Scotland.
Summer of squirrels
The project phase officially launched in April 2017, and the first task was to expand the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels team. Four new members of staff have since joined, providing a boost for the project’s communications and engagement capabilities, as well as its conservation efforts.
Communications Officer Gill Hatcher and Project Administrator Neil O’Donnell are helping to spread the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels message and support community engagement across the country.
Dr. Stephanie Johnstone is supporting vital red squirrel conservation work in Dumfries & Galloway, joining the project’s network of Conservation Officers in the Borders, Argyll & the Trossachs, Tayside and north east Scotland.
Community Engagement Officer Liz Gunby is getting people across south Scotland excited about red squirrels, with the aim of enlisting volunteers in the region’s ‘Priority Areas for Red Squirrel Conservation’ (PARCs).
With the full team in place and ready to go, the project embarked upon its mission to inspire community action across the country. The holidays soon filled up with a busy events schedule of country fairs, gardening shows, and community gala days.
Rain or shine (often on the same day), the team got out there, spreading the word about red squirrel conservation and informing people on how they can take action to help red squirrels where they live. Even ‘Sandy the Squirrel’ got involved, helping to engage children in the project and, on occasion, unintentionally scaring some babies.
All staff were kept on their toes, but none more so than new Community Engagement Officer Liz Gunby. Liz reflected on her first ‘summer of squirrels’:
“The response from the public this summer has been nothing short of amazing! Everyone has been so friendly and encouraging. There is a lot of love for our native red squirrels, and people genuinely want to help and do what they can do to protect the species.
Of course, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels couldn’t have reached so many people without the help of our enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, who shared their time, knowledge and resources to help inspire more people to join the cause.”
A role for everyone
Developing Community Action is all about protecting the legacy of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels. It’s about ensuring a long-term and sustainable approach to red squirrel conservation that gives ownership to local people, helping them to connect with their natural surroundings. An ambitious aim, but given the amount of love for Scotland’s red squirrels, certainly an achievable one.
Landowners will continue to play a crucial role in the battle to protect Scotland’s red squirrels. To be truly successful, there needs to be a coherent and coordinated network of trapping across south Scotland, the central lowlands and north east Scotland. Whether it’s a vast private estate or a cosy back garden, people can be assured that by caring for their patch they are contributing to a larger movement that is making a real difference across the country.
Gillian Hatcher, Scottish Wildlife Trust