The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) recently announced a remarkable upsurge in red squirrel sightings at the Kirkcudbright Training Area in Dumfries and Galloway, according to a report on Friday, January 19.

In recent months, notably since the onset of conservation efforts, sightings of these native squirrels have nearly doubled, with the surge linked to the work of DIO and the Dumfries and Galloway Pine Marten Group.

This increase coincides with Red Squirrel Appreciation Day on January 21, highlighting the success of a project initiated to boost the pine marten population sustainably at Kirkcudbright.

WO2 Scott Maclean, Deputy Training Safety Officer at Kirkcudbright Training Centre, expressed his delight at this development.

‘There has been a notable increase of red squirrel activity across the estate at Kirkcudbright, with roughly double the number of sightings in the last few months than before, in 5 or 6 separate locations,’ he remarked.

The presence of pine martens, natural predators of squirrels, appears to benefit the red squirrels, as they exhibit more caution around these predators than their grey counterparts.

The red squirrel, Britain’s sole native squirrel species, has been threatened primarily due to the introduction of the grey squirrel from North America in the 19th century.

With the UK’s red squirrel numbers plummeting from about 3.5 million to a mere few hundred thousand, the grey squirrel population stands at an estimated 2.7 million.

Factors such as competition and the transmission of squirrel pox, fatal to reds but harmless to greys, have driven this decline. This has led to the red squirrel being classified as endangered in England and Wales.

DIO’s Conservation Stewardship Fund financed the installation of 12 pine marten den boxes to foster a small, permanent pine marten population.

This initiative is designed to naturally curtail grey squirrel numbers, thereby aiding in the resurgence of red squirrels.

Kirkcudbright Training Centre, primarily used for infantry training, including live firing, and spanning approximately 1,900 hectares, exemplifies how military activities and wildlife conservation can coexist.

Oliver Howells, DIO’s Principal Ecologist, states, ‘Wildlife continues to thrive across our training areas, and there are many examples of how priority species are flourishing alongside military activities. The rise in red squirrel numbers at Kirkcudbright is a great example and a real success story.’

In addition to the red squirrel project, efforts to rejuvenate the Balmae Lake region have included removing non-native plant species and replacing them with Scottish wildflowers to boost insect numbers and biodiversity.