A record-breaking wildlife study has revealed Perthshire as the country’s capital for squirrel sightings.
Conservationists organised a so-called citizen science event to get a better understanding of Scotland’s under-threat red squirrel population.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust, which led the project, asked residents to record sightings in their back gardens, or while out exploring their local patch.
The results published on Tuesday show that the largest concentration of spots came from the Perth and Kinross area, one of the few parts of Scotland where both grey and red species share the same landscape.
Fears that a population boom among greys would drive out the reds have been allayed after sightings suggested the native population has stayed strong.
However, the trust said it was surprised by the sightings of two grey squirrels around Aberfeldy.
The variety is known to live in the Dunkeld and Birnam area, and in lesser numbers around Dalguise. The sighting of two greys in Aberfeldy suggests the species could be expanding northwards, posing a threat to their native cousins in their stronhold areas.
The larger and more robust grey squirrels compete more successfully for food and habitat than reds, making it more difficult for them to survive.
A total of 548 greys and 2,612 red squirrel sightings were recorded over seven days in September as part of the National Lottery-funded Great Scottish Squirrel Survey.
That’s almost eight times the amount reported in a typical week, and almost four times as many as a similar campaign in 2019.
In Perth and Kinross, there were 763 verified sightings, including 702 reds and 61 greys.
The data will be used to form future conservation efforts.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Project Manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels thanked everyone who took part.
“It’s been inspiring to see more people than ever taking time to enjoy nature and on the look-out for squirrels.”
Dr Tonkin added: “Reporting a squirrel sighting is a small act that helps to protect one of Scotland’s most charismatic yet threatened species.
“Records from the week help us to create a detailed snapshot of the situation on the ground and allow us to make informed conservation decisions based on distribution and population changes over time.”
For the last 12 years, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has implemented control measures along the Highland Line from the Gare Loch to Montrose to contain the incursion of the non-native grey squirrel into red squirrel strongholds to the north.
More recently, this includes work to protect red squirrel populations in selected landscapes in the south from exclusion by grey squirrels.
Dr Tonkin said: “All of our fieldwork was unfortunately suspended this year when the lockdown hit in March, and caused fears of a ‘bounce-back’ of grey squirrels in a year which has coincidentally been a boom year for the species.
“The boom follows an exceptional beech seed crop last autumn, leading to earlier and more productive breeding this spring, and lockdown prevented the early intervention that would normally have contained this increased production.
“The widespread reporting of red squirrels in this survey, run in September after work resumed, gives us comfort that the red squirrel has not become a casualty of the coronavirus restrictions.”