Perth & Kinross Red Squirrel Group

The grey threat

Grey squirrel looking down from wooden fence
Some background

Grey squirrels (as the species is known in the UK) are definitely one of nature’s success stories. Intelligent, adaptable and gregarious they are instantly recognisable and now a common sight in many parks and gardens.

Many people do not realise that the grey squirrel is not a native species of the British Isles. It is actually a North American squirrel – its correct name is the Eastern Gray Squirrel. It was deliberately released in Scotland (Argyll & Dumbarton) in the 1890s. It was then released in Edinburgh in 1913 and Dunfermline in 1919.
Since then greys have spread rapidly, appearing in Perthshire at Cromie and Callander by the 1940s and in Kinross and Dollar by the 1950s. Today grey squirrels are found throughout lowland Perth & Kinross and are now regularly seen as far north at Pitlochry.

Why grey squirrels threaten red squirrels with extinction

The grey squirrel poses two main threats to the survival of the red squirrel:

Competition
Grey squirrels outcompete red squirrels for food and shelter. It has been estimated that reds typically die out of an area around 15 years after greys become established.

Disease
Grey squirrels are carriers of a virus known as ‘squirrelpox’ which is harmless to them but deadly to the reds. This disease can kill all the red squirrels in an area that come into contact with an infected grey squirrel in a matter of days, usually 15.

Be in no doubt – if grey squirrels had not been deliberately released, red squirrels would not be in a battle for survival.

You can download a question and answer sheet to learn more about grey squirrels and why they are regarded both in the UK and internationally as a problem (invasive) species.

If you want to help us help the reds by stopping the greys why not read more about how you can get involved. If you would like to talk to us about helping red squirrels in person, please contact us.