Dundonnell Translocation

In 2008 The Highland Foundation for Wildlife carried out one of the first red squirrel translocations in Scotland, to Dundonnell Estate in Wester Ross.  It has been very successful and we are now planning to carry out further translocations in 2012.

Photo by Laurie Campbell


Lady Jane Rice of Dundonnell Estate asked us to examine the potential for re-establishing a viable population of red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) at Dundonnell by translocating animals from elsewhere in the Highlands.  Subsequent field work showed that Dundonnell provided excellent habitat, plentiful food supplies and no competition from grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). It was big enough to establish a viable population and could provide a secure disease-free refuge against further inroads by grey squirrels moving north and west in Scotland.  It would also provide field experience in the translocation of red squirrels, which may be needed as an important tool in red squirrel conservation.  As we deemed it important that this should not be a one-off, but the forerunner of future translocations, we wrote the following vision for red squirrels in the north-west Highlands, which was subsequently accepted by SNH:

To re-establish red squirrels in suitable forests and woodlands to the north and west of the present range, in order to increase the distribution and overall population and to create refuges free from grey squirrels and associated diseases.

 Translocation Method

Following the granting of a license from Scottish Natural Heritage, in winter 2008/2009 44 red squirrels (21 males and 23 females) were live trapped in Moray and Strathspey.  All squirrels were given a veterinary inspection and were successfully translocated to Dundonnell, where they were released into the wild either by soft release (13 squirrels) or hard release (30 squirrels).

Traps were attached to trees and baited with nuts

Squirrel caught in a trap

All squirrels were weighed, measured and given a health examination







A successful project!

Dundonnell Red Squirrel Colonisation. Solid red= confirmed presence. Red hash=evidence of presence but rarely seen.Black dots=original release sites.Blue dots=one-off sightings.

Supplemental feeding was carried out during the first winter by Alistair Macdonald, the estate stalker, and proved to be very successful, with squirrels very quickly learning to use the nut feeders that we provided.  Radiotracking of translocated squirrels showed normal behaviour and an excellent survival rate.  They successfully bred at Dundonnell the following Spring and in each year since, with numerous sightings of young squirrels suckling and, later in the season, young on their own.  Drey building has been extensive with both breeding and non-breeding dreys located across a large part of the woodland area.  The squirrels have colonised all of the surrounding woodland and at least one made an amazing journey to Leckmelm over the mountains, an overland distance of at approximately 16km.

Summer drey built high in a beech tree









There is now a flourishing population of red squirrels at Dundonnell and we believe there to be 290-580 squirrels, with fluctuations according to season and food availability.

We consider the translocation to have been extremely successful, in that it has created a healthy and robust red squirrel population free from incursion by invasive grey squirrels.  We advise that further translocations are carried out as soon as possible based on the methods used at Dundonnell, to enable colonisation of other former areas of habitation and to increase the area of red squirrel range free from grey squirrels.

For more detailed information on the red squirrel project click on the reports below:

Dundonnell Red Squirrel Project – Main Report 2008- 2009

Red Squirrel Success Report 2012