Peter Garson 01557 814584
Newly formed in early 2015, this group has the goal of conserving the red squirrel populations living in the woodlands of the lower Fleet Valley. It operates under the auspices of the Gatehouse Development Initiative and is affiliated to Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels, a national project coordinated by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
The ancient deciduous and mixed woodlands around Gatehouse with their abundance of oaks, pied flycatchers, redstarts and carpets of bluebells are some of the finest in southern Scotland: for instance at Cally, Killiegowan, and Cardoness, with Castramont and Rusko further up the valley. Left to themselves red squirrels also find good homes in these places. But they are no longer unchallenged: grey squirrels are now being sighted here on a regular basis. Greys are well known for being the alien invaders introduced from USA in the late 19th century which have since replaced the much-loved native red over almost all of England, Wales, and large parts of Ireland. A separate introduction in the early 20th century to the central belt of Scotland has enabled greys to infiltrate the Borders and Galloway from the north. Most recently greys from Cumbria carrying the squirrelpox virus (SQPV), which causes them no ill effects, have spread north of the Solway Firth. SQPV is almost invariably lethal to reds and accelerates the replacement of reds by greys by a factor of about 20. Grey squirrels carrying SQPV have been trapped as close to us as Newton Stewart and Dalbeattie since 2011. The oak-hazel woodlands of the lower Fleet are unfortunately a very close match to the native habitats of the grey across the Atlantic, so our reds are now under a very serious threat of being wiped out by invading greys.
At the head of our valley, the extensive Fleet Basin forests are managed by Forestry Commission Scotland, primarily to produce timber from conifers, but also for conservation and amenity. Red squirrels survive better than greys in such places, and a combination of its extent, isolation and tree species mix has resulted in the Fleet Basin being selected as one of just 19 Red Squirrel Strongholds in Scotland. These are places where populations of reds have the best possible prospects for survival in the long term. Despite this, protecting them from encroachment by greys is vital, and managing woodland corridors that they can use to gain new ground is key. So preventing greys from becoming established in the lower Fleet will not only ensure that we can continue to enjoy our reds, but also helps to protect one of Scotland's most important reservoirs for this threatened species.
The Group’s goal is to ensure the long term conservation of the red squirrel in the lower Fleet valley and estuary woodlands.
Its key objectives are to:
- inform people about red and grey squirrels
- provide opportunities to see red squirrels more easily
- make it simple for anyone to submit records for both squirrel species
- react rapidly to control grey squirrels