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Red squirrel habitat gets help from planning team

12/12/12

Aberdeen's red squirrel population has received a helping hand from an unlikely source.

Aberdeen City Council's Planning and Sustainable Development Team joined forces with the Countryside Rangers on a project to improve the red squirrel habitat at Hazlehead – one of the best places in Scotland to spot the bushy-tailed beasts.

Hazlehead Woods is the largest block of woodland owned by the council and is a valuable wildlife resource and a popular place for walking, cycling and horse riding.

In recent years, the management of the woodland has been targeted to improve biodiversity for red squirrel conservation in particular.

This has involved the thinning of some of the existing woodland, clearing areas of Sitka spruce and replanting a mix of species which are more red squirrel-friendly, as well as substantially reducing the grey squirrel population.

The Sitka spruce is not native to Scotland but it produces seed which red squirrels often eat. However, it is not a reliable source of food for the animals and there is a risk the area could soon become overgrown with spruce.

The Rangers Service, together with about 40 colleagues from the Planning and Sustainable Development team, removed as many of the Sitka spruce seedlings and young trees as they could to prevent them taking over the areas where the new, red squirrel-friendly tree species have been planted.

The Rangers anticipate that the removal of spruce saplings in the area will help the Scots pine population flourish and in turn allow red squirrels to thrive.

The ongoing work in the area is in line with the North East Scotland Biodiversity Action Plan for red squirrels and the City Council Nature Conservation Strategy.

Dr Margaret Bochel, Aberdeen City Council's Head of Planning and Sustainable Development, said: "It is great for staff to take a few hours out of their working day to help make a real difference on the ground to one of our valued local habitats.

"This not only meets our obligations in terms of corporate social responsibility but is also our aims within 'Aberdeen - the Smarter City' by encouraging citizenship, participation and civic pride as well as promoting biodiversity, nature conservation and access to green spaces."

Countryside officer Ian Talboys added: "Red squirrels are being spotted more and more in Hazlehead, partly due to the removal of some greys but also through work carried out to encourage the regeneration of Scots pines – red squirrels' favourite food. Removing the spruce saplings from the woodland will help the pine population which will in turn give people more chance of seeing red squirrels in the city."