June 28, 2024 4 min read

On Wednesday evening, we had the pleasure of hosting a launch night to celebrate Meander Apparel's new collaboration with SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. We have been working on a limited edition collection of graphic tees and sweats with Scottish artist, KMG, that showcase some of the species that have a pivotal role SBP's rewilding mission. From the native and playful Red Squirrel to the wild Lynx we hope to see in the Highlands once again soon. 

We wanted to do a deep- dive into the animals that feature on our Rewilding Collection and find out more about what makes them so essential to Scotland's ecosystem. Some members of the amazing team at STB act as ambassadors for each of the animals they seek to raise awareness of so we knew they'd be the perfect folk to speak to. For the first Q&A in this mini-series, we spoke to Tara Mann who is the ambassador for the Red Squirrel. Whilst this is a native species to Scotland, the red squirrel faces challenges as a species that prevent them from thriving, despite their importance to our ecosystem. Read on to find out more about the squirrel's struggles and what we an do to help the situation.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got involved with SBP?

Although I'm Scottish, I spent my childhood growing up in Spain and always longed to return to Scotland having felt such a strong connection to the land. After spending most of my career working for corporate organisations, I decided it was time to work towards something more meaningful. With a fond love for nature, I was delighted when the opportunity came up with SCOTLAND: The Big Picture. Having spent the last two years learning about rewilding, I'm hopeful that Scotland's nature has a chance to recover.

What drew you to become an ambassador for the red squirrel?

Who doesn't love the red squirrel! It's a privilege being able to show my support for this adorable species, which I hope will one day thrive again.

Why is the red squirrel an important species for rewilding projects?

The red squirrel is an integral part of our native woodland wildlife and so in terms of rewilding there's a clear need to restore squirrel habitat, so that red squirrels can thrive. 

Image: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture
What are the biggest threats facing red squirrels in Scotland today?

Threats facing red squirrels include disease, habitat loss and notably the spread of invasive non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels not only out compete reds for resources like food but also spread the destructive squirrelpox virus which red squirrels have limited defences to.

What measures are being taken to protect and increase red squirrel populations?

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels is a project working to manage squirrelpox through monitoring and citizen science, and controlling the spread of invasive non-native greys into red squirrel strongholds. Red squirrel translocations have also been undertaken to restore the species to areas where over time they had become locally extinct, habitat fragmentation can be a barrier to natural restoration so it's really important that we play our part in helping this iconic Scottish species get back on track with woodland restoration being a vital part of the picture.

Can you explain the role of red squirrels in seed dispersal and forest regeneration?

Red squirrels exhibit a behaviour known as caching, where they store seeds and nuts in various locations. Not all cached seeds are retrieved, leading to the germination of those seeds in new locations - hence their role in woodland restoration. 

Image: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture
Are we still allowed to like grey squirrels or is that a no-no?

Of course in many places grey squirrels are common and we recognise that people will become fond of them. Currently grey squirrels are managed mainly in specific priority areas which are vital for the conservation of our native red squirrel. 

Have you got any top-tips for those wishing to spot red squirrels in the wild?

In the places where red squirrels are still present, they will be found close to woodland and may even visit garden feeding stations. In the wild it is best to head for a red squirrel stronghold and in suitable woodland (both coniferous and deciduous) look for feeding signs such as split hazelnuts and stripped pinecones. Looking up to see squirrels in the treetops overhead can prove lucky too. There are some great nature reserves like Tenstmuir, Abernethy where regular sightings are made and the Isle of Arran is great due to the lack of grey squirrels.

Image: SCOTLAND: The Big Picture
If you could introduce a non-native animal of your choosing to Scotland, what would it be? I’d personally love to see bears or wolves running around our Highlands…

As a rewilder, I have to say I'd much rather see our native Lynx be reintroduced. They're an incredible species and their reintroduction could offer many benefits to Scotland. The prospect of sharing our landscape with such a majestic animal is an exciting one.

What can the public do to get involved in supporting red squirrel conservation efforts?

It’s important that squirrel sightings are recorded so that efforts to manage the spread of squirrelpox are well informed by accurate data - you can log your sightings at https://scottishsquirrels.org.uk/squirrel-sightings/

We've always been lovers of the outdoors and are passionate about helping the environment we live in thrive. 10% of sales from our Rewilding graphic tees and sweats will be donated to SCOTLAND: The Big Picture and their mission. SBP are also a part of the Scottish Rewilding Alliance, who are calling for Scotland to become the world’s first Rewilding Nation and sign the charter, which calls for 30% of Scotland’s land and seas to be committed to rewilding. If you also want to help support, you can sign the charter here!

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