A wildlife charity has raised the alarm after grey squirrels were spotted in a key red squirrel conservation area in the Mearns.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is asking for the public’s help in recording any sightings of greys in the St Cyrus area.
Grey squirrels, which were introduced to Britain from North America, out-compete the native red squirrels for food and living space.
Some also carry squirrelpox, a virus that does not harm grey squirrels but is deadly to reds.
North East Scotland conservation officer Dr Gwen Maggs said she was concerned about recent sightings in St Cyrus and Ellon.
She said: “This is the first time grey squirrels have been reported in the Ellon area for a number of years and there have also been two sightings of grey squirrels in the St Cyrus area in recent days.
“St Cyrus, and the Mearns area as a whole, sits in a crucial gap between the grey squirrel population south of the Highland Line and the isolated pocket of grey squirrels in Aberdeen.
“Squirrelpox is not currently a threat in Aberdeenshire, however this could change if the gap between the two grey squirrel populations closes and they become able to breed.”
She said the group would focus on these areas to ensure the grey squirrels are removed to protect the well-established red squirrel population in the region.
“Complacency is not an option and we would like the public’s help to build a better picture of the local situation,” she added.
Greys were first introduced to Aberdeen in the 1970s, rapidly spreading throughout the city and into surrounding Aberdeenshire, causing the region’s red squirrel populations to decline rapidly.
Years of grey squirrel control work carried out by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has already removed grey squirrels from much of Aberdeenshire, allowing red squirrels to return.
A 2017 survey conducted by the project indicated that red squirrel populations in the North East have increased, while remaining stable elsewhere in the country.
The reason for the recent increase in grey squirrel sightings in Aberdeenshire may be due to young grey squirrels from this year’s breeding season spreading out to look for new habitat.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a partnership project led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and supported by the National Lottery’s heritage fund and a network of dedicated volunteers.
Members of the public can report any squirrel sightings (red and grey) on the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels website, scottishsquirrels.org.uk.
The project is also developing a Mearns Red Squirrel Community Group.
Anyone interested in getting involved with red squirrel conservation work across the Mearns area can contact Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels at firstname.lastname@example.org