Men’s Sheds join the fight to save south of Scotland’s red squirrels

Men’s Sheds across the south of Scotland have been using their woodworking skills to help protect threatened red squirrels in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders.

Members of the non-profit men’s support network have built over 130 feeder boxes for use in the annual Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels spring survey, which monitors red and grey squirrel populations between March and April.

There are 115 survey sites across the south of Scotland. Each site requires four feeder boxes. The boxes are cleaned and reused wherever possible, but every year around a quarter must be replaced due to wear and tear. Squirrels ill often gnaw on the boxes before they learn how to open the lid. 

Volunteers are now filling the feeder boxes with bait and collecting samples of squirrel hair at regular intervals throughout the survey period. These samples are analysed under a microscope to determine which species of squirrel is present in the area.

The results help the National Lottery-funded Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project understand how red and grey squirrel populations are changing over time, and decide where to focus conservation efforts.

The Galashiels Men’s Shed group built 83 boxes in just two days, while the Dalbeattie Men’s Shed made a further 50 for use across Dumfries & Galloway. Hawick Men’s Shed has also produced boxes for additional survey work carried out by a newly-formed volunteer group in the Teviot & Borthwick area.

Laura Preston, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Conservation Officer for the Scottish Borders said: “Without the hard work of Men’s Shed members our spring survey would be much more difficult to organise.

“There are still many healthy red squirrel populations in the south of Scotland, but they continue to be threatened by the spread of non-native grey squirrels. The better our understanding of the situation, the better our chances of providing them with the long-term protection they need.”

Paul Bertram of the Galashiels Men’s Shed said “We were originally put in touch with the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project via Volunteer Centre Borders. When project staff showed us the drawings for the feeder box design I could see that it was a good opportunity to get everyone at the shed working together as a team.”

The 2019 survey is currently underway, but people can help Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels throughout the year by reporting red and grey squirrel sightings online at scottishsquirrels.org.uk