Paul Wheelhouse MSP, and Minister for environment and climate change, visited Southesk Estate to view work to save red squirrels.
Mr Wheelhouse was welcomed to Kinnaird Castle by leading Scottish conservation charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT).
The work to protect the Scottish red squirrels is being carried out by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) – one of the Trust’s flagship projects.
Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is a project to stop the decline of Scotland’s core red squirrel populations, to contain or slow the progress of squirrelpox spread in South Scotland and to improve conditions for viable red squirrel populations across Scotland.
It is a partnership project between the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates and Red Squirrel Survival Trust.
The protection of red squirrels depends on a targeted network of project works and landowners delivering grey squirrel population control.
An important part of the project is the collection of data to show whether this is achieving its goals.
Mr Wheelhouse said: “Red squirrels are one of Scotland’s most recognisable and loved animals and Scottish Natural Heritage have recognised public affection by listing the red squirrel as one of Scotland’s ‘Big Five’ species.
“The work of SSRS in raising awareness of their plight in north-east Scotland is extremely important to preserving their future here and across Scotland.
“Since SSRS was formed, we have seen some positive results as we work to halt the decline of the red squirrel numbers.
“A lot of this is due to the excellent co-operation between landowners, non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), Forestry Commission Scotland, and Scottish Natural Heritage, which is taking place throughout many parts of Scotland.
“It was good to see these partnerships in action at Kinnaird Castle, and I am grateful to Graeme Dey MSP and the local partners for inviting me here to learn more about SSRS’ vital work.”
Chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Simon Milne, said: “Savings Scotland’s Red Squirrels is an excellent example of how conservation bodies and landowners can, and indeed must, work together to safeguard our wildlife.
“The Earl of Southesk and over 200 other landowners and their teams are putting a huge amount of effort into ensuring that one of our most popular animals has a future in Scotland.”
Lord Southesk commented: “It was very good to see the Minister taking the time to visit the project in action and I hope that he will remain supportive of the programme to protect Scotland’s wonderful red squirrel population.”
The challenge now is to capitalise on the success which has been achieved to date, and to find sufficient funds to maintain the project.
In the UK, there are roughly 2,520,000 grey squirrels – but only 161,000 reds remaining.
Without the action from Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project, it is estimated that the red squirrel could be lost within our lifetime.
Project manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Mel Tonkin, added: “Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels is delighted that the Minister for environment and climate change, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, could visit Southesk Estate in order to see the how the project, landowners and volunteers work together to safeguard this much-loved species.”
Head of charities for People’s Postcode Lottery, Clara Govier, explained: “We must act now to protect the red squirrels we have left and it’s great that players of People’s Postcode Lottery contribute to this effort.”