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Grey squirrels to be monitored with mini tracking devices in effort to help red squirrel population bounce back

New research underway to trace the steps of urban squirrels. Photo by Nicola Nuttall.
New research underway to trace the steps of urban squirrels. Photo by Nicola Nuttall.

Grey squirrels responsible for almost wiping out their red cousins will be electronically tagged as part of a unique project taking place in Aberdeen.

It comes as part of efforts to reverse the decline of the red squirrel population, which has fallen as a result of grey squirrels being introduced to countries across Europe including Scotland.

A team led by academics from the University of the Highlands and Islands will now analyse how grey squirrels use the urban environment by tracking their every move.

The study aims to shed some light on the habitat preferences and movements of grey squirrels in Aberdeen.

Researchers led by Louise de Raad will monitor the movements of 10 grey squirrels between late March and July using GPS tracking.

She said: “This exciting research will make use of the latest GPS tracking equipment that has become small enough to be fitted to grey squirrels.

“This will allow us to gain a much better understanding of grey squirrel ecology in a semi-urban environment, and investigate what their preferred habitats are, how large their home ranges are, how far they travel in a day and whether they make use of movement corridors.

“This will inform best practices for grey squirrel population control and make a significant contribution to red squirrel conservation.”

Introduced to Aberdeen in the 1970s, grey squirrels quickly replaced the native population across the city and Aberdeenshire.

Threatening populations in Grampian and the Highlands, the larger and more productive grey species is able to out-compete their red cousins for food and living space.

Work has been under way since 2007 to help reduce the threat to red squirrels in the region through a targeted control programme.

Through these conservation efforts and an increasing numbers of pine marten, a predator that attacks grey squirrels, the population of reds has been on the rise.

As a result, grey squirrels are rarely seen beyond Aberdeen’s city limits, and the city’s parks and gardens have experienced a steady increase in red squirrel numbers.

Members of the public can also support red squirrel conservation by reporting sightings of both red and grey squirrels from their gardens or while out walking to Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels at scottishsquirrels.org.uk.

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