Scotland supports an estimated 75% of the UK red squirrel population. Although one of the most popular mammal species in the country, they are facing a number of ecological challenges which have reduced their populations. The red squirrel is now one of our most threatened mammal species.

We're working with a number of partners, including Scottish Natural Heritage, to save the red squirrel for future generations.

Red squirrel with nuts in its mouth

You can get involved in helping red squirrel conservation through one of our partner projects:

Red squirrel conservation priorities and key actions

The red squirrel is a priority species under the Species Action Framework. This sets out a five year plan for managing species in Scotland, so that effort and resources are targeted to offer the greatest benefit. The most important actions we take for red squirrels are to:

1. Monitor the spread of grey squirrels in Scotland and support their control in key areas to prevent further losses of red squirrel populations.

The greatest threat to red squirrels is the spread of grey squirrels. Grey squirrels generally have a competitive advantage over red squirrels because of their larger body size. Grey squirrels also carry the squirrelpox virus which does no harm to them but can kill red squirrels. Widespread grey squirrel control needs effective regional co-ordination and we encourage this through the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels Project. There is grant support available to support the costs associated with effective grey squirrel control. You can find out more about this on the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Services website

2. Establish and manage a series of large public forests as long-term red squirrel strongholds.

We have established eighteen public and private forest areas, as well as the Island of Arran, as red squirrel stronghold areas.

More than two thirds of the stronghold areas are on the National Forest Estate. For stronghold areas on private land, we have helped land managers develop their woodland appropriately. Outwith these sites, land managers will be encouraged to incorporate stronghold principles wherever red squirrels are present:

3. Encourage wider habitat management that supports red squirrel populations. 

Away from stronghold sites, we recognise that woodland management has to take into account other objectives and priorities, including native woodland expansion and restoration. Managing for other objectives may sometimes encourage grey squirrels but we will work with woodland managers to provide advice to minimise this where possible. 

For more information on funding available for red squirrel conservation please see:

4. Encourage consideration of red squirrels in planning or development proposals likely to affect their habitat. 

Red squirrels are fully protected by law and it is an offence to:

  • kill or injure a red squirrel;
  • damage, destroy or obstruct a squirrel’s shelter; and
  • disturb a red squirrel whilst it is occupying a shelter.

If a development is likely to affect a red squirrel habitat, special care must be taken to make sure that the plans take this into account. 

We have produced Guidance on Forest Operations and Red Squirrels and your local Scottish Forestry office can advise on Forest Plans and SRDP applications that may affect red squirrels. 

It is currently not possible to issue a licence to permit actions that would otherwise constitute an offence in relation to red squirrels for the purpose of forestry or development. Provisions under the new Wildlife and Natural Environment Act may enable this in the future in particular circumstances. More information on this is available from NatureScot.