Grey Squirrel at Stirling University (5th November 2013)

Another reason for me going to the University was to film some grey squirrels. As soon as I got to the wooded area I spotted one of these charming fellows, darting around the golden leaves on the ground.

So fascinating to watch these busy little animals always on the move and ever watchful constantly caching food supplies for the winter.This makes it incredibly difficult to film them, but I think I got some good shots here.

Earlier in the year we had taken a journey up to the Loch of the Lowes wildlife reserve where we had filmed Red Squirrels.They are a lot smaller than the grey and its the Reds, that are our native species but they have been almost driven out by the greys unfortunately.

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“Two different squirrels: the facts”

The grey squirrel(Sciurus carolinensis)

The grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Size: between 540 and 660 g in weight.

Appearance: upper fur is mainly grey with mid-brown along the upper back and chestnut over the flanks, limbs and feet. Their underside is white. The tail hairs are grey, banded with brown and black and a characteristic white fringe.They have no ear tufts,pale ears and have a larger, more robust build.

Food: Grey squirrels share food sources with reds. However, unlike red squirrels; grey squirrels can feed on seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, thanks to differences in digestive physiology. As a result, more food sources are available to them and grey squirrels tend to put on 20% in body weight over the autumn, compared with 10% for reds. This gives grey squirrels an advantage in hard winters.

Distribution: 200,000 and 300,000 in Scotland (around three million in England). Grey squirrels have expanded across Scotland’s entire central belt and are now spreading northwards through Angus, Perth and Kinross and Stirling. There is also a population of grey squirrels in Aberdeen city which is now spreading across Aberdeenshire. In south Scotland, grey squirrels carrying squirrelpox, are moving in from England.

Habitat: prefer oak, beech, sweet-chestnut and horse-chestnut habitats. Due to more efficient digestive processes, these habitats can support larger numbers of grey squirrels than red squirrels. Grey squirrels can also make use of conifer habitats (mainly Scots pine and Norway spruce) especially if there is good broadleaved habitat within 1 mile.

Threats: Minimal, aside from human control efforts and road kill.

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The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

 

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

Size: between 270 and 340 g in weight.

Appearance: despite their name, red squirrels can have coats ranging from almost black to chestnut or light brown on the back. The chest and stomach are white. They are famed for their characteristically long eartufts, which are especially prominent in winter.

Food: eats mainly tree seeds but in spring and early summer also eats the buds, flowers and shoots of both deciduous and coniferous trees. Other foods include fungi, fruits, berries, caterpillars and even birds’ eggs. Unlike grey squirrels, red squirrels cannot digest seeds with high tannin content, such as acorns, which limits the food sources available for reds.

Distribution: 75% (around 121,000) of the UK red squirrel population is found in Scotland. In the north, strong populations still exist in areas as yet uncolonised by grey squirrels. Red squirrels can also be found in some parts of central Scotland as ‘pocket’ populations and, although much reduced from their former range, can still be found in many parts of southern and south-western Scotland. The last remaining populations of red squirrels in mainland England are found in Northumberland, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and North Merseyside, which are continuous with the south Scotland populations.

Habitat: typically conifer forests to broadleaf woodland; favours Scots pine and Norway spruce forests, but also enjoys hazel and beech. They can also live in mountainous areas (with altitudes of 425 metres near Aberdeen).

Threats: Competition from grey squirrels, squirrelpox virus, habitat fragmentation and road kill.

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RED SQUIRREL WEEK

A red squirrel finds some nuts Credit: ITV Border

To celebrate the start of Red Squirrel Week, the Scottish Wildlife Trust has launched a campaign which calls on nature lovers to help save the red squirrel from extinction in Scotland.

Following the success of the Trust’s campaign earlier this year, thousands more households across the country will be receiving a copy of a hand-illustrated booklet entitled “The last red squirrel in Scotland?”.

Since 1952, 95% of red squirrels have been lost south of the border and Scotland now contains three quarters of the UK’s remaining population. The biggest threat comes from grey squirrels which, although only introduced from North America in the 1870s, now number in their millions.

Grey squirrels are larger and outcompete red squirrels for food. They also carry squirrelpox, a virus almost always fatal to reds. The disease reached the south of Scotland in 2007.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust is leading the fight to save this much-loved species by containing the spread of the squirrelpox virus and preventing greys from moving further north through targeted control activity. It is also planting thousands of native trees to improve red squirrel habitat, which has become fragmented and diminished.

Simon Milne, Chief Executive, said:

“The red squirrel is so much a part of our landscape that many people don’t realise just how serious the situation has become. The red squirrel could disappear from Scotland within our lifetime.

“No one is doing more to save the red squirrel than the Scottish Wildlife Trust. That’s why we are calling on people who love Scotland and its iconic wildlife to join us. With your help, we can take action before it’s too late.”

A red Squirrel on the look out Photo: ITV Border

SAVING SCOTLANDS RED SQUIRRELS