Vital volunteers needed to save our last red squirrels

Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

The Wildlife Trusts are leading the largest ever recruitment drive for red squirrel volunteers. With the help of National Lottery funding, the Trusts aim to increase volunteer numbers from 500 to 5000 to save the UK’s last red squirrels.

**If you'd like to volunteer check our list of local red squirrel conservation groups seeking volunteers **

With the first of this year’s surveys of the endangered mammal due to start on 1st March, a new approach to the conservation of this charismatic species puts volunteers at the forefront of efforts to halt their decline.

Volunteers are needed to help protect red squirrels, as part of community-based teams gathering information about squirrel populations. Tasks include speedy reporting of grey squirrels moving into areas which are currently strongholds for red squirrels. The larger, invasive non-native greys are a major reason for the reds’ decline.

Volunteers will work with partner organisations in their local area, logging squirrel sightings, monitoring feeders for reds, setting up camera traps to film their behavior, controlling grey squirrel populations in key areas, and teaching the public and schoolchildren about our treasured native species, characterized by Beatrix Potter’s ‘Squirrel Nutkin’.

Data about sightings will contribute to the work of Red Squirrels United, a UK-wide network set up to protect the reds, and to the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project. The initiatives are supported by Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF across the UK) and LIFE (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU.

Red Squirrel

©Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Red Squirrel United Programme Manager Dr. Cathleen Thomas said: “In most of the UK there are only a handful of refuges left for red squirrels; without help, experts predict this beautiful and treasured creature could be extinct within as little as 35 years. Volunteers are playing a crucial role enabling red squirrels to thrive. Problems arise because grey squirrels are competing with reds for food and places to live, pushing them into areas where they find it more difficult to survive. Greys can also transmit disease to reds. Since greys were introduced into England in 1876, red squirrel populations have dramatically declined. It is now thought there are less than 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK.”

Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project Manager said:
“Our work since 2009 shows that through targeted control of grey squirrels it is possible to reverse the decline of our native reds and help them to return to former territories. Red squirrels are one of Scotland’s most-loved species. Thanks to National Lottery players we will be able to empower communities to help protect not just their local red squirrels, but major populations of the species in Scotland, and ensure that future generations can continue to see these special animals.”

Red and Grey Squirrel Distribution

Red Squirrels United came together in 2015. It marks the biggest ever partnership of academics and conservationists working together on a scientifically robust programme of conservation for this iconic native species.

RSU is a UK-wide network of nine organisations, led by The Wildlife Trusts, working with local landowners and communities in nine stronghold areas in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In Scotland RSU works with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels.

Partners will maintain grey squirrel-free habitat where it already exists, for example on the island of Anglesey and in Kielder Forest in northern England; extend current red squirrel protection zones in mid-Wales and Merseyside and implement a new whole country approach in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, volunteers will be leading the conservation effort for the first time. Scotland is home to 120,000 red squirrels, three quarters of the UK population. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has just been awarded a grant of £2.46 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels – Developing Community Action project.

Over the next five years the Scottish project will enlist volunteers from communities in three key regions to carry out practical work to protect and strengthen red squirrel populations in their local area, and in turn safeguard squirrels across Scotland.

On the 7th and 8th March 2017, Red Squirrels United will hold a Red Squirrel Knowledge Fair – it will be the first ever time people across the UK have shared experiences and techniques to help stop the declines of this charismatic species.

Find your local partner organisation and what they offer volunteers

If you are unable to volunteer because there are no projects in your area you might like to consider 'adopting' a red squirrel with The Wildlife Trusts!

Find out more about supporting Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels here.

Notes for editors:

Current red squirrel distribution
• England – Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, County Durham, Cumbria, North Yorkshire, Lancashire and Merseyside
• Wales – Anglesey, Clocaenog Forest, Tywi Forest
• Northern Ireland – Mourne Mountains and Glendun
• Scotland – widespread except in the central belt and far north of the country

Red Squirrels United (RSU)
Red Squirrels United is the biggest ever partnership of UK organisations working together on a scientifically robust programme of conservation for our iconic red squirrels.

Red squirrel populations have declined since the introduction of the grey squirrel in 1876 and it is now thought there are less than 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK. Red squirrels are afforded the highest level of protection under UK law in the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (The Wildlife & Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1985).
Significant progress has been made by local and regional red squirrel conservation initiatives in halting the decline of the red squirrel populations and controlling the spread of grey squirrel populations, but they are not safe yet - constant conservation effort is likely to be needed for as long as grey squirrels are present nearby.

This project is the first national UK network aiming to join up these successful regional initiatives to conserve, protect and promote our native red squirrels and increase community involvement in red squirrel conservation.

There are 8 project partners working in four conservation areas across the UK.

Conservation partners and area covered:
Lancashire Wildlife Trust – Formby, Southport and Scarisbrick
Northumberland Wildlife Trust – Kielder, Uswayford and Kidland Forests
Red Squirrels Trust Wales – Gwynedd and Clocaenog Forest
Ulster Wildlife – Mournes Mountains, Glens of Antrim, Fermanagh, North West
Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales – Tywi Forest
Research partners:
Forest Research – social impacts of red squirrel conservation
Newcastle University – ecological impacts of red squirrel conservation
• We have a memorandum of understanding with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels for cross-border working between England and Scotland. The two projects will work together to share information, resources and knowledge between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS)
SSRS is a project to stop the decline of Scotland’s core red squirrel populations and to improve conditions for viable red squirrel populations across Scotland. It is led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, RSPB Scotland and Red Squirrel Survival Trust. For more information visit

The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone.

Heritage Lottery Fund – Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF invests money to help people across the UK explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about - from the archaeology under our feet to the historic parks and buildings we love, from precious memories and collections to rare wildlife. Since 1994, they have invested over £800m in more than 3800 heritage projects across Scotland. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and use #HLFsupported.

HLF awarded the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts a grant of £1.4 million in 2016, for the Red Squirrels United project. They have now awarded £2.4 million to Scottish Wildlife Trusts Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project.