The Red Squirrel : A Future in the Forest

cheeky red squirrel in pine forest
Anyone who knows me will know of the illicit love affair that I’ve being having for the past thirty years…with red squirrels, of course. Growing up in what is now the Cairngorms National park in the heart of red squirrel country it was hard to avoid these charming creatures as they went about their business in the woodlands around my home. I’ve been interested in wildlife for as long as I can remember but it was the red squirrel which really got me involved with photography. It began simply enough by putting out a few hazelnuts to entice them to within camera range and before I knew it the squirrels had found the nuts and after just three days I had my first photograph and that was me hooked

Since those early beginnings there is really a day that goes by that I don’t go down to the woods to feed the squirrels. They have become a massive part of my life and I never tire of watching their amusing antics and trying to capture them in a new light or to show interesting behaviour. It’s an on-going quest, which I hope will never end. I regard myself as very lucky to have grown up and lived in such a beautiful part of the UK and whilst I try not to take the squirrels for granted it is easy to forget that the red squirrel has a tenuous hold in much of it’s range in other parts of the country and of course has been lost altogether from most of the UK for a variety of reasons.

red squirrel, cairngorms national park

Even here in Scotland where red squirrels are doing quite well, their range and population is hampered by a lack of suitable habitat. With less than 2% of the Caledonian forest now remaining in Scotland the future of the red squirrel is by no means certain. A lack of woodland corridors  means that populations have become isolated and fragmented and are much more prone to disease and predation. When we think of the demise of the red squirrel it is often the grey squirrel which is held up as the main culprit and whist this is certainly true in many areas it is not the whole story. The lack of suitable habitat remains the greatest challenge for the species and this is something that I would like to see addressed through a forward-thinking plan to increase woodland cover to join up the small islands of trees that exist at the moment.

As a photographer working alone for much of the time I find it frustrating that I am seemingly unable to make much of a difference. It is rewarding to take pictures that other people enjoy and I hope that in some small way this does make a difference and helps to influence opinion but a lot of the time these images are simply eye candy for folks who enjoy wildlife. There’s nothing wrong with that of course but I wanted to contribute in a more meaningful way as well as to fulfil a long held ambition to publish a book on red squirrels. I have to admit that this is self-indulgent to some degree – let’s face it who doesn’t like to see their images in print – but I hope that by teaming up with celebrated natural history author Polly Pullar and the team at Wild Media Foundation (the guys behind SCOTLAND: The Big Picture) who are helping bring this book to fruition I will be able to produce something that not only interests squirrel fans but also contributes to the wider discussion on promoting a wilder Scotland.

Red Squirrel sitting on branch of pine tree. In the Cairngorms National Park.

On 1st November we kicked off a crowd funding appeal to raise the funds that will allow us to produce the book independently. We have got off to a great start and I’d like to thank everyone who has backed the campaign so far but we have a long way to go and I hope that we can maintain the momentum through to the end of the month when the appeal ends. To be honest I am both excited and nervous in equal measure knowing that we need to reach the target to get the required funding otherwise we don’t get a penny and it’s unlikely the book will happen.

Fingers crossed the pledges will keep coming in though. It’s going to be squeaky bum time for the next few weeks that’s for sure!

If you’d like to make a pledge then please visit the Kickstarter web page at: http://kck.st/2eWxFHx

In addition, if you are able to post about the project on social media that would also be very much appreciated.

Thanks,
Neil

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