One of the nation's favourite wild animals, red squirrels, will soon be the centre of attention – and with the benefit of a major cash boost.

The Red Squirrel Survival Trust has given funding to Southern Scottish volunteer groups as it launches its National Red Squirrel Awareness Week campaign to save the native species.

Red squirrels are an endangered species and have been completely pushed out of their native habitats in the southern half of the British mainland by the more dominant greys. Numbers now stand at approximately 140,000 across the whole of the UK, with at least 75% of the population found in Scotland.

As a final stronghold for this iconic native creature, Scotland’s volunteer activities to protect the species are seen as critical to its long-term survival. With this in mind the trust, a national charity working to prevent extinction of this endangered species, has announced that a grant of £14,120 will be donated to the Red Squirrels Forum for South Scotland to buy important thermal imaging equipment and trail cameras.

The umbrella group, covering 18 conservation groups and 350 volunteers from Galloway to Berwick, was delighted to be awarded such significant funding to enhance the work of their conservation efforts. In times of such environmental urgency, the RSST hopes that the grant will build further confidence and momentum behind the bid to accelerate efforts to prevent the extinction of this endangered species.

Dr Peter Garson, a board member of the forum and volunteer who took the lead in putting forward the project for funding, was thrilled with the decision: “This is absolutely ground breaking for our red squirrel volunteers. It is the most important thing to happen in South Scotland for years, as both thermal imagers and trail cameras enable us to detect squirrels much more efficiently.

"Cameras work all day, every day, effectively doing the work of many volunteers but reducing time in the field. The 10 thermal imaging scopes and 120 trail cameras will drastically increase our survey capacity, so we can be better in all aspects of our work to save red squirrel populations.

"This kit means we can quickly survey new areas of woodland for both squirrel species, rapidly identifying hotspots for reds and finding key locations under threat from greys,” he pointed out.

Tying in with the national campaign for Red Squirrel Awareness Week from September 21 to 27, the grant could not have come at a better time. The seven-day campaign will see RSST lead activities to raise awareness of the plight of the red squirrel, including exclusive interviews with leading conservationists from across all corners of the British Isles.

This will include a Q and A session with Becky Priestly, wildlife officer for Trees for Life, in Dundreggan, Inverness, who will share her experiences of rewilding the Scottish Highlands and of the ground-breaking red squirrel reintroduction programme.

David Bliss, a trustee of the RSST, added: “We are very excited about this year’s campaign, especially as after lockdown there is a general and growing feeling of the essential importance of green spaces and nature to our wellbeing as a nation.

"While some of us are familiar with the plight of the red squirrel, much of the public is in the dark about the details of the threat from grey squirrels, and what is being done about it. Sustaining red squirrel populations depends on raising awareness, so we are looking forward to exhibiting the fantastic work being done with these leaders in the wildlife management space.”

The RSST is a leader in national efforts to promote species conservation and is working hard with volunteer groups to solidify red squirrel strongholds where remaining populations need protection. Grey squirrels threaten native populations because of the transmission of the fatal squirrel pox virus, their well-documented destruction of trees and commercial forestry, and from their colonisation of habitats that red squirrels rely on to survive.

To engage the population in these efforts, the RSST and the UK Squirrel Accord have scheduled two webinars with key professionals in the endangered wildlife sector for an UK update on red squirrel conservation, and a webinar on grey squirrel damage.

* You can get involved in Red Squirrel Awareness Week by attending the webinars, reaching out to your local squirrel group to find out how you can help, by donating to the RSST, and by reposting social media content to spread knowledge on the work being done and it's important to save the red squirrel.