Red squirrels could be making a comeback to Falkirk after one was sighted in the village of Torwood.
Jamie Stevenson, Torwood Garden Centre manager, believed he spotted one of the woodland creatures near the village and was excited to see such a rare sight.
He said: “I am the fourth generation of my family to run the garden centre and in the 73 years we have been in the area neither me, my father nor grandfather has ever seen a red squirrel in Falkirk.
“It really is a rare sight. The closest area to us that has reported sightings of red squirrels is either Fife or Stirling.
“So no matter where he came from the little creature has travelled some distance, crossing motorways or maybe even a bridge.”
Prior to working at the garden centre, Jamie worked with an ecology firm in Dunblane and has a BSc in ecological science, so he is certain what he saw was a red squirrel.
He said: “I have seen it twice now, however every time I have, it is when I am out a run and I do not have a phone or camera with me so I have been unable to grab a picture of the squirrel.”
Jamie is hopeful the iconic creature is making a comeback in the district.
He said: “The red squirrel is a lovely looking creature so it is really easy to get people interested in trying to save it.”
Despite not being able to get a photo of his sighting, Jamie has logged it with Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels at scottishsquirrels.org.uk.
The project, which works in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as the Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, has a map of the country where people can log sightings and Jamie’s is one of only two in the Falkirk area.
The project aims to stop the decline of Scotland’s red squirrel population by improving living conditions for the species across the country and combat the spread of the non-native grey squirrel.
The grey squirrel was introduced to the UK in the Victorian era from Canada and the United States of America. As the species can be twice as big as the red squirrel, it began to eat all the food and now it covers most of England, Wales and Ireland.
Dr Mel Tonkin, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project manager, said: “The grey squirrel population grew at the expense of the red squirrel. “However, in Scotland we still have good numbers of red squirrels. When we saw how quickly the grey species spread we acted quickly to preserve our native animal.
“In 1995 the red squirrel was designated a priority species and work has been ongoing ever since to save our animal and stop the spreading of the grey squirrel.”
The Scottish Wildlife Trust works with land owners to carry out controlled killings of grey squirrels in areas where it is needed.
Mel said: “We take no enjoyment in killing animals but to save our red squirrels it sometimes needs to be done to keep the population from spreading. The grey squirrels are dealt with in the most humane way possible. We use humane traps and kill them in the quickest way possible.”
The grey squirrel also carries squirrelpox, a disease that is deadly to red squirrels and once infected they will be dead within a few weeks.
The project cannot cover everywhere in Scotland as saving the red squirrels is a costly job so they rely on the support and help of people in local communities.
Mel said: “The red squirrel is a charismatic creature and people love seeing them. Thankfully, it means we are never short of support for them and I hope they are making a return to Falkirk so people should be keeping their eyes peeled for our native furry friend.
“We are always telling people how to look after their tigers however what right to we have to do so if we cannot look after our own squirrels.
“Everyone has the responsibility to look after their own native species.”
Another danger to the red squirrel is the loss of woodland area across the country.
Mel said: “Woodland areas are becoming smaller and smaller and more isolated. This means red squirrels can not move as it is too dangerous to cross the road the divides woodland areas. Eventually they settle in one area limiting the spread of red squirrels.”
Torwood Garden Centre is having a birthday celebration this weekend to commemorate 73 years as a family run independent business and representatives from the Scottish Wildlife Trust will have interactive displays with children and adults.
Jamie said: “They will also be educating everyone about red squirrel conservation and teach people how to spot them in the wild. Hopefully it means we will have more people on the look out for the creature and we will soon see more of them in and around Falkirk. Make sure you come along to Torwood Garden Centre this weekend to learn all about red squirrels and how you can help.”