Torwoodlee: A red squirrel haven

Torwoodlee is a traditional Borders estate of 3,000 acres. The land there ranges from lower river habitat to heather-covered hill ground up to 1300 feet. The estate's activities including farming, forestry, salmon fishing, rainbow trout farming, pheasant and partridge shooting, a golf course, let cottages and renewable energy developments.

The owners, the Pringle family who have been at Torwoodlee since 1501, are passionate about the native wildlife, the habitats it needs and the ecosystem benefits it brings. From leaving wild areas for the voles and the owls that feed on them to planting another 60 acres of native woodland as a Diamond Jubilee Wood in 2013, they do what they can for the creatures whose home it also is.

At the top of the list of native species that they champion is the red squirrel. They have always had a remnant population of red squirrels and some 15 years ago they felt that the squirrels needed more help to thrive and to fend off competition for space, food resources and habitat from the invasive grey squirrel.

Planting small-seeded native trees and shrubs has helped but the biggest benefit came when the family started to control the grey squirrels in a systematic and thorough way. Hardly a day goes by now without a red squirrel being seen and the grey squirrels are so few that they can be targeted individually. Damage to the hardwood trees which are being grown for top quality timber is now negligible and an unexpected bonus is the amount of natural regeneration, especially of oak and beech, which is appearing.

The woodland, or wildlife, corridors are planted with a view to increasing the ability of the red squirrels to move around the estate in safety to help mix the genetic pool for the future. Estate owner James Pringle now feels that continuing to plant oaks for future generations to enjoy is not a doomed pastime.

While the Pringle family accepts that to retain their wonderful red squirrels means a long-term commitment to controlling grey squirrels, this is a small price to pay for the sheer joy that the reds have given to the area for many years.