Jun 232017

Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in autumn colours, Scotland

With thanks to Chris Aldridge.

A new book, The Red Squirrel: A Future in the Forest, by award-winning wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre and author Polly Pullar, is helping to support the return of one of Scotland’s best loved animals to the Highlands of Scotland.

The book’s publisher, Highlands-based social enterprise SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, has pledged to donate £10 from books purchased with a special code to Trees for Life’s work to re-introduce red squirrels to the western Highlands. 

Peter Cairns of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture hopes the book will raise fresh awareness about the plight of the reds as well as cash to help save them.

He said:

“Neil’s beautiful images and Polly’s words have helped to highlight how important the wild forest is to squirrels. We love what Trees for Life is doing to bring back both the forest and the squirrels and are pleased to be able to support them in this way.”

Trees for Life is an award-winning charity working to restore the native Caledonian Forest and its unique wildlife to the Highlands of Scotland. Conservation experts at the charity have been carefully relocating red squirrels from healthy populations in Inverness-shire and Moray to forests in northwest Scotland, where the species is currently absent despite suitable habitat. The Red Squirrel Reintroduction 

Project has so far established four new populations in the northwest Highlands, significantly increasing both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK.

Becky Priestly, Wildlife Officer with Trees for Life, said:

“We’re hugely thankful to SCOTLAND: The Big Picture for its generous offer to donate to our Red Squirrel Appeal from sales of the book. These donations will help us continue our work to reintroduce this much-loved animal. Local communities are monitoring the introduced squirrels and are now reporting sightings of young squirrels for the second year running, so we know they’re doing well.” 

To obtain a copy of The Red Squirrel: A Future in the Forest and help support Trees for Life, order online at Scotlandbigpicture.com. Use the special code STBPTFL10 to have £10 donated to Trees for Life and to save 10 percent. Alternatively, you can donate to the appeal directly at Treesforlife.org.uk/donate  

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Apr 202017

With thanks to Emma Brown.

Today sees the launch of a stunning new photo book showcasing one of Britain’s favourite mammals and at the same time making the case for the expansion of its native woodland home.

The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest features jaw-dropping imagery by award-winning wildlife photographer Neil McIntyre, who has spent the last 20 years documenting the lives of the red squirrels near his home in the Cairngorms National Park.

Neil’s astonishing portfolio of images, captured deep in the heart of one of Scotland’s largest remaining fragments of Caledonian Pine Forest, is accompanied by insightful and evocative words from celebrated writer Polly Pullar, to create a beautiful and thought-provoking book which aims to raise awareness of the plight of the red squirrel.

With native woodland covering just 2% of Scotland’s land area, red squirrel populations are fragmented on isolated islands of trees and their long-term future remains uncertain.

Conservation photographer and Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, the book’s publisher, Peter Cairns said:

“Neil’s beautiful images shine a unique light on one of Scotland’s best-loved mammals, but squirrels need forests just as much as forests need squirrels. I hope this book will ignite fresh conversations about that crucial link.”

The publication of The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest follows a successful crowdfunding campaign, which ran throughout November 2016 and was supported by over 500 backers.
It is the first in a series of stunning conservation books from SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, a project which works to amplify the case for a wilder Scotland.

The Red Squirrel: A future in the forest is available now from www.scotlandbigpicture.com.

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Aug 252015
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in scots pine forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) in scots pine forest, Cairngorms National Park, Scotland.

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

An innovative new project by conservation charities Trees for Life and the Highland Foundation for Wildlife aims to secure a major increase in the range of Scotland’s red squirrel populations for the first time in decades.

The Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project – which launches this summer – has the ambitious goal of establishing 10 new populations of the species in the Highlands over the next three years, with the long-term aim of boosting red squirrel numbers in Scotland by more than 10 per cent.

It will also provide a unique opportunity for volunteers, including those from remote communities, to take an active part in wildlife conservation.

The project will involve conservation experts carefully relocating red squirrels from areas of Scotland where they are thriving to remote forests in the north-west Highlands where there are no squirrels at present, but good quality habitat for them.

It will build on pioneering work by Roy Dennis MBE of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife which has demonstrated impressive results – 40 red squirrels that he moved into woodlands at Dundonnell in 2008, for example, have already expanded into a thriving population of around 400, and two further translocations were also very successful.

“Through an effective and proven approach, this exciting initiative will help red squirrels return to the forests where they belong for the first time in decades – leading to significant new populations of this iconic species and offering real hope for its long-term survival,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Executive Director.

“Increasing red squirrel numbers will also benefit our native forests and the many species that depend on them, because red squirrels are nature’s tree planters. They collect and bury thousands of tree seeds each autumn, but frequently forget these hoards – which in spring take root and so expand our woodlands.”

The project has been made possible by a grant of more than £61,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Colin McLean, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said:

“Thanks to National Lottery players, HLF grants have helped to protect an amazing range of landscapes, habitats, and species of plants and animals. The Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to support the Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project – which will provide opportunities in both rural and urban communities for volunteers to learn about wildlife, as well as training in practical conservation skills.

“We are pleased to support projects that will stimulate an interest in our precious natural heritage and so help conserve it for future generations.”

Urgent conservation action is needed to secure the long-term future of the red squirrel, which is increasingly rare in Britain and is recognised in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority species. Only an estimated 138,000 reds are left in the UK, and their populations – devastated by disease and competition from the introduced grey squirrel – are still in decline.

Red squirrel numbers have also been adversely affected by the loss of their forest homes, which have been reduced to isolated remnants. Although many forests in the north-west Highlands offer suitable habitat, red squirrels travel from tree to tree and do not usually cross open ground. This means they cannot spread back to areas of fragmented woodland from where they have disappeared.

The Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project will see squirrels transported to carefully selected release sites in specially constructed nest boxes, lined with hay for comfort and warmth, and provisioned with peanuts for food and apple for hydration. These nest boxes will then be nailed to trees and their exit holes filled with moss – so that the squirrels can find their way out in their own time, once people have left, minimising stress for the animals.

Food will be provided for several months after release, to help the squirrels settle easily into their new surroundings.

Situated far away from disease-carrying grey squirrels, the relocated reds will quickly establish new populations.

Animal welfare measures will be central to the project. Once a squirrel has been caught, the trap will be covered with a dark cloth to keep the animal calm and reduce stress. All traps will be checked at a maximum of two-hourly intervals, and all squirrels will undergo a health check by a qualified veterinarian, to ensure that diseased animals are not introduced into the new populations.

No more than two squirrels will be taken from any donor site, so that their removal does not negatively affect the donor population.

Volunteers – including those from remote communities and disadvantaged backgrounds – will be able to join training courses covering red squirrel surveys and conservation, and will be given the opportunity to help monitor the progress of the translocations. An online training programme will allow people to develop the skills to monitor red squirrels in their local area.

The scheme will also involve the creation of partnerships with landowners, ongoing monitoring, and pioneering research to learn more about red squirrels, in order to strengthen conservation action. Talks and seminars will be held with communities to inspire people to get involved with the conservation of endangered wildlife.

Trees for Life is dedicated to restoring the endangered Caledonian Forest in the Scottish Highlands – one of the UK’s wildest landscapes. The award-winning charity’s volunteers have helped to plant more than one million trees at dozens of locations, and Trees for Life aims to establish one million more trees by planting and natural regeneration by 2018. For more information, see www.treesforlife.org.uk or call 01309 691292.

About red squirrels:

* The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) lives in conifer-dominated boreal forests and in broadleaved deciduous forests. It is not ideally suited to woodlands now covering much of Britain, and has been outcompeted by the more adaptable introduced non-native grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in much of the country. Greys also spread and transmit squirrel pox virus, to which they are immune but which is lethal to reds.

* While mainland Europe enjoys healthy populations of red squirrels, the species is now extremely rare in the UK – with current population estimates being 138,000 individuals. Approximately 120,000 of these are in Scotland, 3,000 in Wales and 15,000 in England.

* The red squirrel occurs throughout most of mainland Scotland, with the largest populations in Caledonian Forest remnants in the Highlands, and in Dumfries and Galloway. The Scottish population has increased slightly in recent years, probably due to the expansion of tree cover – but the animal’s range and population would have been much larger in the past, before the loss of most of the Caledonian Forest.

* The Eurasian red squirrel is widely distributed in Europe and northern Asia, from Scandinavia south to Italy and Bulgaria, and from Ireland and Britain across to Russia. Beyond Europe, its range extends as far as Mongolia, China, Korea and the northernmost of Japan’s islands.

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Mar 192012

A proposal to build a road through woodland in Ellon has come under fire from a group set up to support the management of the area. The intended purpose of  road is to provide access for the development of 250 new homes. Those opposed to the plan believe the road is unnecessary, destructive, and in contravention of a Blench Charter. Friends of McDonald Park founder member Lynn Gilbert brings Voice readers the story.

The plan is being opposed by Friends of McDonald Park, a group set up by Aberdeenshire Council in 1990 when the Council bought the superiority of the Park from the charity Barnardos.
The aim of the group is to support the management of McDonald Park for the benefit of the community. We have done this by planting bulbs, trees and a hedge as well as regularly clearing litter from the ground and from the Modley Burn.

The Park was given to the Burgh of Ellon in 1928 by Sir James McDonald and is governed by a Blench Charter.

The terms of the Charter state that the Park should be used for recreational purposes only, that nothing should be done which is detrimental to the Park and that its area is not to be reduced in any way.

In 1996, we successfully opposed a plan by Aberdeenshire Council to use part of Caroline’s Well Wood, the east section of McDonald Park, as a bus park for Ellon Academy. On that occasion we raised the terms of the Blench Charter and an alternative solution was found without destroying any of the Park.

In 2010, builders Barratt East Scotland and Scotia Homes were given Council permission to construct 250 houses in Ellon’s Castle Meadows but it was only when marks appeared on trees in the east section of the Park, that it became apparent that the plan was to construct a road through it, from the development site to Golf Road. I made enquiries on behalf of the Friends and was told that the road had been approved by councillors.

In August 2011, the Friends were informed in a Council Estates Department letter that an S75 Legal Agreement for the application had still to be signed, and were asked for their views on the proposed access. The same letter stated that legal advice given to the Council was that:

“vehicular access must facilitate/improve public access to the park and cannot be granted purely to allow development”.

The Friends voiced total opposition to a road through the Park, stating that it would be in contravention of the Blench Charter since it would not improve public access to the Park, but was solely for the development. It would also involve the felling of a large number of mature trees in an area inhabited by red squirrels, bats and spring/early summer migrating birds.

It would seem that councillors were not satisfied with the legal opinion offered and they sought further advice several times from Sir Steven Stuart QC. This was given in a privately-heard report presented at a Formartine Area Committee (FAC) meeting on 6 December last year. It suggested that temporary construction access could possibly be granted, subject to a number of safeguards and agreements being in place.

  The Friends and many others have lodged objections to the planning application

On 17 January, a report to the FAC, again heard in private, proposed a temporary five year construction access which would become a pedestrian and cycle path once the five years had elapsed. This temporary access would be a tarred road with lighting and other services and which would involve the felling of at least 99 mature trees.

It would take a fifteen metre slice of the woodland at the Golf Road end, this increasing to nearer thirty metres at the top, a significant area of the Park.

It seems that when councillors first approved this access, they were not aware that they themselves were in fact Trustees of McDonald Park. It was in this capacity that councillors had to consider the application at their 28 February meeting, and as Trustees they rejected it.

This application is to be considered at a Planning meeting on Tues 20 March.

The Friends and many others have lodged objections to the planning application, and I have asked to speak at the meeting should it be heard there. Quite apart from the effect of this road on the woodland, a precious asset to Ellon, there is another matter to be considered.

Construction traffic using Golf Road would access the Park at the rear of Ellon Academy, an area used by a large number of Academy pupils and mothers with buggies walking into Ellon. There are two other access roads to the development, but some residents along these routes would rather see part of McDonald Park destroyed than have traffic pass their homes.

Interestingly, the site of this proposed access is given as ‘Castle Meadows’ on the planning application, when in fact it is McDonald Park. This makes it easy to overlook the reality of the situation.

Further info: Save McDonald’s Park Caroline’s Well Wood Ellon : Facebook Page
Image credit: Ian Jukes 

Jul 152011

New Arc’s Keith Marley talks to the Aberdeen Voice about New Arc’s activities and ways the public can get involved.

While some of Aberdeen’s great and good are spending their time and our money getting their portraits painted and throwing parties to celebrate the great occasion, the entire spectrum of people and animal charities are suffering cuts, and it will get worse.
There is no time like now to get involved with a charity of your choice, and The North East Wildlife & Animal Rescue Centre, better known as The New Arc would like your help.

The Northeast of Scotland has an abundance of wildlife and domesticated animals – but very few resources to cope with abused, injured and/or abandoned animals.  Willows in New Pitsligo is one, and the New Arc in Ellon is another.

Keith Marley from New Arc attended the Tullos Hill picnic in June arranged by Fred Wilkinson of Aberdeen Voice.  He entertained many of us with tales of rescued animals of all kinds.  He had once been called to a council flat – only to find it overrun with dogs, rabbits, cats, a parrot and the animal to be taken into care:  a very large pig.  He had to smuggle it out in a blanket to try and avoid embarrassment for its former owners; it was squealing, and kids on the crowded street asked what it was, and he said it was a sick dog.

Unfortunately not many of his stories are amusing.  People who are feeling the economic pinch are abandoning animals – some most cruelly.  A recent news story was that of a cat left in a locked box on the side of the road.  It would have surely been killed or starved to death in its small cage if not for a very eagle-eyed and caring passer-by.   The people who did this are still being sought by the Scottish SPCA.  Just as a reminder – animal cruelty and abandonment are completely illegal (as well as unacceptable to any thinking person)

Animal abandonments are increasing; the cost of driving out to rescue animals has risen with the cost of fuel, and the cost of feeding the hungry mouths at New Arc has risen as well.  Animal charities are in a lose/lose situation at the moment.

Keith would love volunteers to contact The New Arc; he would also love donations.  And ideally, he
would like people to get involved with fundraising:-

“We are asking for volunteers to form a fund raising group – Friends of The New Arc. FONA Ideally
we would like 2 groups, one based in Aberdeen and one covering the rural areas.

“The responsibilities of the fund raising groups will be to raise awareness of the work we do here
and generate fundraising ideas and assist in the coordination, management and implementation of those ideas into reality.

“If you feel this is something you could assist with either by sitting on the committee or by
volunteering your time to assist in carrying out the activities then please contact us by phone on 0796 2253867 or by e-mail at thenewarc1@aol.com

The New Arc will not destroy healthy animals; it seeks to rehome animals where possible or return to the wild as appropriate.  They are, unfortunately unable to take dogs, and at the moment cannot take any more cats.  They have a good number of animals which need homes, so if you can offer a suitable home to one, please do get in touch.

There are many animals which need to stay at the shelter for the rest of their lives – these animals desperately need sponsors.  New Arc also features a lost/found pet section on their website.  The website also offers useful tips as to how to assess and react to an animal in the wild.

There is no government funding – New Arc runs on volunteers and donations:  all monies donated go directly on maintaining the sanctuary and caring for the animals.  Here is a video of New Arc in action:-

Most young wild animals will have a parent or parents somewhere nearby; it is almost always best to leave a young wild animal alone – if you touch it, the odds are the parents will abandon it.  What might seem like an injured or abandoned wild animal to you or me may just be a fledgling.

If you do encounter an injured animal, there is also good guidance on what to do.  The New Arc seem to take calls ‘round the clock; I once needed Keith’s help and despite having a hospital appointment on the same day, he showed up to assess the problem I reported as soon as he could.

Please do visit the website at:  http://www.thenewarc.org/  and if you can help the New Arc, then please get in touch.