ECOS 38 (5)

THE RED SQUIRREL

A Future in the Forest

Neil McIntyre and Polly Pullar

SCOTLAND: The Big Picture

2017

168 pages

ISBN: 978 0 9568423 1 2

Hardback RRP: £25

Review by John Savory

Celebrating red squirrels and their Highlands habitat

There cannot be many of us who did not fall in love with red squirrels as children as a result of reading Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, with its delightful illustrations of these captivating mammals. When that book was first published in 1903 the larger grey squirrel from North America had only recently been introduced to estates across Britain by misguided landowners, with disastrous consequences for the red squirrel. Since then the numbers and range of reds have declined drastically due to competition with the ever-increasing greys and also to loss of their woodland habitat. In recent decades, the squirrel parapoxvirus, which grey squirrels carry but are immune to, has added to the plight of red squirrels where both species co-exist.  So urgent measures are needed to reverse their decline.

Anyone who fell under the spell of Beatrix Potter’s book should be equally charmed by this lovely new book about red squirrels. It is the first in a series of conservation books from the publisher SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, thanks to financial backing from over 500 supporters. It is full of stunning photographs by wildlife cameraman Neil McIntyre with accompanying evocative and informative text by writer and naturalist Polly Pullar. Both Neil and Polly live in the Highlands, where the spread of grey squirrels has so far been halted. 

Most of Neil’s striking photos are of red squirrels accustomed to coming to feeding stations he has been provisioning since 1991 near his home in the Cairngorms National Park. His selection comes from all seasons, some subjects close up, some more distant, involved in various activities, but all capturing the lively character of this very special rodent. His squirrel studies are complemented by equally impressive photos of pine forest habitats and other woodland fauna and flora, like roe deer, pine marten, capercaillie, black grouse and crested tit.

Polly Pullar’s numerous written vignettes provide interesting historical and biological information about this species. I found her sections on early persecution, diet, moult, breeding, threats from predation and disease, reintroductions and habitat restoration particularly useful. She ends on an optimistic note for the red squirrel’s future and I sincerely hope she is right. I thoroughly recommend the book and I look forward to whatever is next in this series.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) jumping in scots pine forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland. Peter Cairns

News from Trees for Life

Trees for Life’s Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project aims to expand significantly the numbers and range of the UK’s red squirrels, by establishing eight new populations of the species.

Squirrels are transported in special nest boxes, lined with hay and containing food and apple for hydration. Only small numbers are removed from any site, to leave donor populations unaffected. Health checks ensure that diseased animals are not introduced to new populations.

The boxes are fixed to trees at the reintroduction sites, with grass-filled exit holes allowing the squirrels to leave when ready. Food is provided for several months as the squirrels get used to their new habitat.

The project’s initial relocations took place between the springs of 2016 and 2017, with the first 33 squirrels from Inverness-shire and Moray released at Shieldaig in Wester Ross. This was followed by 22 more released at the Coulin Estate next to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve near Kinlochewe, and 30 at Plockton, which is owned by landowners including The National Trust for Scotland. Trees for Life now has evidence of the relocated squirrels breeding two years in a row at Shieldaig, and also of breeding at Plockton and dispersal is occurring from these locations.

 

ECOS 38 (5): Contents

Inheritors of the Earth by Chris Thomas

Review by Peter Shirley

The Nature Fix by Florence Williams

Review by Andrew Blewett

Rewild by Nick Baker

Review by Peter Taylor

Re-enchanting the Forest by William Ayot

Review by Peter Taylor

Woodland Development by George Peterken and Edward Mountford

Review by Simon Leadbeater

The Red Squirrel by Neil McIntyre & Polly Pullar

Review by John Savory

Camera Trapping for Wildlife Research by Francesco Rovero and Fridolin Zimmermann (eds.)

Review by Rick Minter

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