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Parliamentary debates and questions

S5W-10294: Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch)

Scottish National Party

Date lodged: 11 July 2017

To ask the Scottish Government how it is tackling the impact of the squirrelpox virus, which can be fatal to red squirrels.

Answered by: Roseanna Cunningham 2 August 2017

Since 2007, the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) Project has been working to protect red squirrels in South Scotland from the emergence of squirrelpox virus which was first recorded in Scotland in 2005.

Between 2009 and 2012, the SSRS Project carried out an extensiveprogramme of squirrelpox surveillance and responsive grey squirrel control in an attempt to contain the virus in South Scotland. This comprised a project supported Conservation Officer and two Grey Squirrel Control Officers, Forestry Commission controllers working on the National Forest Estate and a network of landowner control in private forests and estates. Grey squirrel control on private land was initially funded under the Scottish Forestry Grant Scheme, which was superseded by the launch of the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) from 2009. A total of 102 estates in South Scotland were in receipt of five-year SRDP-funded contracts (2009-2014) for grey squirrel control.

In early 2013, SNH commissioned disease modelling to inform the SSRS Project’s control strategy. This work highlighted that targeted control could help slow the spread of the virus, but was unlikely to halt its spread in areas where grey squirrels are already established. However, the modelling also indicated that co-ordinated grey squirrel control may allow local populations of red squirrels to persist and recover after disease outbreaks. The Scottish Government funded squirrelpox surveillance across central Scotland in 2014. This work indicated that squirrelpox virus is not yet widespread in central Scotland. However, the finding of seropositive results over a number of years indicates that squirrelpox is circulating in local grey squirrel populations, with low levels of seroprevalence.

In April 2017, the SSRS Project started a new 5 year phase (SSRS-Developing Community Action) with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The work to protect priority populations in South Scotland in the presence of squirrelpox will continue and in the Central Lowlands the project will carry out co-ordinated grey squirrel control, squirrelpox surveillance, collaborative research and awareness raising with a view to preventing the northwards spread of grey squirrels and squirrelpox.