The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies
Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies Bicentenary

Red squirrels thriving on island

Red squirrels living on a Scottish island are fighting fit, say University vets.

Red squirrel

A survey of the animals on the Isle of Arran has been conducted by scientists who are monitoring the population in a bid to help save the species.

They have found the squirrels to be in excellent health and showing few signs of disease.

Welcome findings

Researchers were particularly relieved to find no evidence of the deadly squirrelpox virus.

Keeping squirrelpox at bay is vital to red squirrel survival and being on an island gives Arran’s population the best chance of avoiding this disease.

The findings are good news for the future of this endangered species.

Competition threat

Red squirrels around the UK are under threat from deadly diseases and competition for food and habitat from grey squirrels, which were introduced to Britain from North America in the 19th century.

Arran is one of 19 red squirrel strongholds in Scotland - there are no grey squirrels on the island.

Red squirrels are found in both deciduous and coniferous woods all over the island.

Animal health

The survey was led by vets and scientists at the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and funded by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and Forestry Commission Scotland.

The team humanely trapped and examined 21 live squirrels with the help of local foresters and rangers.

Vets also examined the remains of 16 squirrels that had been killed on the roads.

Detailed health checks included tests for common squirrel diseases, such as parasites and viruses, and also investigated the genetics of the animals.

Some populations of red squirrels have been found to have high levels of diseases, and lack of genetic diversity could also affect their health, so we’re delighted to find that Arran’s red squirrels are fit and healthy.

Professor Anna MeredithRoyal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

Squirrel photo by Alistair Rae, under a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License.