In February, our team had the amazing opportunity to visit a red squirrel research team from Inverness College UHI (the University of Highlands and Islands) led by Dr Louise de Raad and join them at their field site on the Black Isle. The research team are using radio tracking collars to investigate how red squirrels respond to clear felling areas of woodland. Clear felling, as most of you know, is the most destructive, but quickest form of timber harvesting, when every tree is felled. In some cases clear felling parts of forests is inevitable, for example for health & safety reasons (when there is a lot of wind blow or trees are near power lines), because they are non-native species or simply because the stand has matured and is ready to be harvested. Obviously, this causes a huge change in the ecosystems of all wildlife using the space. The research is being carried out in close collaboration with Forestry Land Scotland who are looking to further improve their practice when it comes to optimising forest harvesting for red squirrel conservation. We’re looking forward to the findings of the study!
We travelled up to Scotland straight after the Red Squirrels United Conference, which meant some really long days for Ben and Phil. We arrived in Inverness late on the Monday, after a challenging drive up, with huge flooding in Wales, and snow on the Cairngorms.
We spent Tuesday and Wednesday with Louise, Andy and Jamie checking traps in Knockbain forest on the Black Isle. We were incredibly lucky to catch 5 red squirrels in the two beautiful days and were able to observe and learn from the team processing each squirrel. We then spent a few hours radio tracking some of the collared squirrels. I (Sarah) have done a fair amount of radio tracking in the past with the Vincent Wildlife Trusts (VWT) Pine Marten Recovery Project (PMRP). The opportunity to do some radio tracking of squirrels was incredibly informative, both in terms of different kit and technology, and the practical differences! (And by this I mostly mean; less driving, more walking and the same amount of white noise!)
As a part of our current “Healthy Reds” project, we are hoping to conduct our own radio tracking study of our Welsh red squirrels. Originally timetabled for later on this year, we’re not sure yet how the current pandemic might affect this. Even if we are forced to push our study back a little later, we’re incredibly grateful to Louise, Andy and Jamie for inviting us up.
We are also incredibly grateful to the Scottish weather for granting us a few absolutely stunning days! We are aware how lucky we were with this, and kudos to the Scottish team for the weather that they have had to contend with!