Loss of forest cover in Scotland has caused a serious decline in red squirrel numbers in recent years. With only 120,000 red squirrels remaining in Scotland, the latest project by conservation charity Trees for Life aims to bolster the population by combatting road deaths.
In addition to the on-going project to reintroduce red squirrels to the Highlands, the charity has created a safe road crossing for the squirrels in the form of a rope bridge. The bridge stretches across a Highland road near Shieldaig, in a bid to give the squirrels a safer route to cross the road. Along with the bridge, road signs have been installed to alert drivers to the presence of squirrels in the area.
A road sign in the Highlands helps squirrels cross safely. Credit: ©Peter Cairns
Since the introduction of the bridge and road signs, there has only been one known squirrel death in the area, and none in 2018.
Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer Becky Priestly said: “Sadly, road traffic is a major risk for wildlife – including red squirrels. We wanted to take positive action to help the red squirrel population spread into the local woodlands as safely as possible. The combination of bridge and road signs definitely appears to be working well, which is great news”.
Over the past year, the success of the bridge has been documented through footage collected by trail cameras. The footage reveals a burgeoning new population of red squirrels using the bridge.
A narrow squirrel bridge over a road in Scotland. ©Peter Cairns
Road bridges such as the one in Sheildaig have been trialed in other areas of the UK, garnering mixed results.
Trees for Life is also combating red squirrel decline through its reintroduction programme. Over the past three years, they have relocated 140 squirrels from strongholds in Inverness-shire and Moray to to isolated fragments of Highland forest where the squirrels could not return on their own.
The forest has welcomed back its native squirrel population, and the reintroduced squirrels have flourished, breeding and spreading more widely.
Through their The Reds Return appeal, Trees for Life hopes to reintroduce red squirrels more widely in the northwest Highlands. treesforlife.org.uk/appeal
Main image: © Peter Cairns