October 17, 2018
The red squirrel may not have the status of national icon but it has certainly become a rare enough species to get excited about if you happen upon one. Many people, certainly urban dwellers, may go their whole lives without seeing one. So, it’s not difficult to imagine the level of upset in the community of Strathnairn, just south of Inverness, when they discovered that three of their red squirrel population had been killed by passing cars. After road signs asking motorists to be more squirrel-aware had no effect, a more creative approach to squirrel road safety was called for.
A Highland community is seeking to provide an escape route for rare red squirrels after a spate of deaths.
Strathnairn Community Council is working with Scottish and Southern Electricity Network (SSEN) after the discovery of the remains of three red squirrels on the road near the Balnafoich crossroads at Inverarnie.
Residents have even put up their own “slow squirrels” sign to warn drivers of the presence of the charismatic mammal in the area.
And now, they want to give the squirrels a route through the trees high above the road in the formof a rope bridge.
Community Council chairman James Murray said: “We have had a report of three squirrels being killed on the road.
“As a result, we are looking at getting a rope bridge in place to prevent any more deaths.”
SSEN is currently working on replacing an overhead line between Knocknagal and Tomatin, and the subject of the squirrels was raised at a recent community liaison group.
Red squirrels are regularly seen in the woodland surrounding the construction work, but there has been no evidence of displacement of squirrels in the area.
SSEN was approached by the community council and said they would be happy to assist in purchasing and installing a crossing.
They are currently investigating the suitability of the various available models of crossing.
A spokesman said: “As a responsible developer we want to be a good neighbour to all our local communities, and this commitment extends to the nearby flora and fauna.
“When we were approached by Strathnairn Community Council for assistance with the installation of a squirrel crossing, we knew straightaway that it was the right thing to do, and we are currently looking at the various types of crossings on the market to ensure we get the best possible outcome for the squirrels.”
A spokesman for Scottish Natural Heritage said: “Where management involves the loss of continuous tree cover, rope bridges are a simple but effective way of helping our red squirrels to stay safe when crossing roads.”
Red squirrels were once widespread throughout Britain, but fewer than 120,000 remain in Scotland – 75% of the total UK population.
The decline in the numbers of the well-loved mammal is primarily due to competition for food and living space by the invasive non-native, American grey squirrel.
Grey squirrels also carry Squirrelpox – a virus lethal to reds but not to greys.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust joined forces with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, Scottish Land & Estates and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust in a co-ordinated attempt to stop the decline and create the conditions for them to thrive in the future.
Since 2009, the initiative has enabled reds to re-establish in many areas.