Red Alert

Watch out tufty -

Watch out tufty –

Interesting to notice the sudden and very dramatic collapse of the red squirrels on the neighbouring ground below the Chayne over the past year. A few grey squirrels have passed through now and again, but squirrel pox appears not to be the explanation for this particular decline, which rests more in the realm of predation than disease.

Several of the resident squirrels have been killed by goshawks over the summer, and the birds were working in a systematic fashion around the network of feeders that had been set up to supply the squirrels with nuts. The gardener saw one meeting its end at the talons of a hawk, and the keeper saw another having a close call. The evidence from red fluffy remains spread around the area suggests that predation had become a pretty serious issue for this little enclave. The gamekeeper decided to take down the feeders and let the squirrels disperse in order to break the cycle, so the surviving squirrels have simply melted away into the woods.

There are obvious and emotive politics around this situation, and it is rather topsy-turvy on account of the unnaturally high concentration of squirrels and the perfectly natural response of an able predator to capitalise on it. But I can’t help feeling sorry for the squirrels, which already have so much set against them in this country without human beings releasing their arch-enemy into one of their final strongholds. Many of these hawks were released ten or twenty years ago without any official approval, and it makes little sense in the context of national biodiversity decline to stack another predator species on top of a food-chain that has very unstable foundations. In six years, I have found evidence of goshawks killing black grouse, barn owls and now squirrels – all perfectly natural and not a problem in Scandinavia or Eastern Europe where they have all of these species in abundance, but not quite so convenient in Scotland.

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