Going Nuts For Squirrels

11 March 2015

Working with McLaren High School for Red Squirrels

An exciting conservation initiative geared towards helping increase a small population of Red squirrels, Sciurus vulgaris, at Blair Drummond Safari Park leaped into action this week. Students from McLaren High School, as part of the curriculum for excellence challenge, were invited to construct specially designed nesting boxes and feeding stations. The students then travelled to the safari park to see their boxes being installed with the kind help of David Whyte, of professionaltreeclimbing.co.uk. It is everyone's hope that the squirrel population will triple this year and start to disperse from their current location. The safari park's education officer, Dave Warren, who set up the project along with Niall Williamson (McLaren High School) says:

"This is a brilliant project that could have an immediate, positive impact for the Red squirrels on the estate. Red Squirrels can have two litters of up to 6 kits, so even if we say we have a very conservative ten females on the estate, we could double if not triple the population heading into next year's breading season. It's vital work that is needed to protect the remaining 120,000 Red Squirrels left in Scotland. Once the students have constructed the nesting boxes and feeders, they will have to select suitable sites, install them and any squirrel activity will be recorded and monitored using camera traps".

Dave Whyte added:

"Red squirrels are one of the most iconic and much loved species of locals and tourists when they visit Scotland's national parks - they need our help and protection. If we did nothing, it is likely that Reds would suffer a similar fate to their English counterparts. Grey squirrels are more successful at competing against reds for food and territory, they also carry 'squirrel pox', a virus fatal to reds yet is tolerated by the greys. It's a great project, the kids have worked really hard and I'm delighted to lend a hand so that the kids can see their boxes being safely installed".

Niall Williamson says:

"The Curriculum For Excellence Challenge is one aspect of the junior years curriculum that McLaren High School is proud of. It delivers several aspects of the curriculum to the current S1 cohort looking at things as varied as health and fitness to emergency response training to outdoor learning and conservation. We are currently undertaking the John Muir Bronze award looking at applied environmental conservation in our local area, and when this opportunity arose to be part of an active and practical conservation initiative, we leapt at the chance to be a part of it. The red squirrel project provides the young people a chance to see a planned conservation strategy have a direct impact in their local area in a very short space of time that they have driven forward as a group. All who have taken part have commented positively on the fact that their handy work will provide a potential home for one of Scotland’s big 5 animals. It is also very positive that the pupils can see the direct impact that their work will have as this adds a tangible credibility to the project. The added value that this gives the initiative will help provide the drive for future projects and will stay with the participants for a very long time. We are looking forward to seeing the expansion of the Red Squirrel population at the park. Rebecca who took part in the project wrote: Recently we have been looking at 5 different endangered animals in the UK. We started our challenge by looking at the life of red squirrels and other endangered animals. We then started to plan and make red squirrel boxes and we worked in groups to complete the task. The end result was brilliant and a group of us attended the safari park to put them up with the help of a tree climber. Thirteen other boxes that we made were placed in other trees in the local area in the last few days. Whilst we were at the safari park, the others stayed behind at school and worked in groups to produce a presentation on a specific animal. We have also been given talks about the red squirrels By Dave Warren from the Safari park. We have learned how much the red squirrels need our help as the grey squirrels keep stealing their food and their habitat. I have really enjoyed the work we have been doing recently in our challenge and we really enjoyed making the squirrel boxes. The end result was very impressive when we saw the completed boxes knowing that our team had built it! This is really good as I have never done anything like this before and it is very enjoyable knowing that you are helping to make a difference with one for the UK’s endangered species".

It is the hope that visitors and residents close to the Safari park, will be able to enjoy the efforts of the students and watch red squirrels scurrying about in the park. So far, the signs are very encouraging, the Red squirrels are becoming more confident and are using the feeders frequently.