Red Squirrels & Pine Martens at Glen Dye.

I saw a red squirrel on my way to work this morning (a gentle 400 metre stroll or, truthfully, drive). It crossed the road in front of me and was darker than the rich red colour we often associate with this wonderful small animal. Sometimes they are almost black, though most British reds are, indeed, red. But, whatever colour, I still feel a powerful frisson of excitement when I see them.

Photo by Sightseers

Photo by Sightseers

Reds have declined pretty dramatically in Britain in the last few decades. But my sense is that they are as plentiful here as they were 30 or 40 years ago. I certainly see as many as I believe I did as a child. It’s absolutely critical that grey squirrels are kept out of Glen Dye because once here, they’ll soon out compete the greys and then, really, there is no way back. I’ve seen them in Banchory, which is around 8 miles away. Bastards.

Photo by Sightseers

Photo by Sightseers

Red squirrels are quite shy. One of the popular misconceptions about them is that they hibernate, but they don’t. And recently I have discovered that they can swim, which I have yet to witness.

But what I love about them is that they are powerful reminders of how important this habitat at Glen Dye is; the forest, the quiet, the safety. They just exist, asking very little of us except to be left alone. Very few people fight for their survival, unlike, say, some of our hawks. And although this Trust may not be at the top of your list of priorities, its work is critical.

Photo by Sightseers

Photo by Sightseers

Occasionally I see one dead on the road and it makes me want to cry. A world without red squirrels would be a poorer place.

Pine Martens are on the rise at Glen Dye. Or I see more than I used to. There is one that lives just behind our office. They are long term residents of Scotland, having been here since at least the last ice age. Apparently there are only around 3500 in the UK, most of which are in Scotland.

Photo by Sightseers

Photo by Sightseers

They are long, brown animals that belong to the same family as stoats and weasels. They are good climbers but -and who can blame them?- they find most of their food on the ground. Like red squirrels their diet is wide ranging and includes eggs, funghi and small mammals. They love Glen Dye for its coniferous woodland, varied food and remoteness. It seems odd to me that they aren’t on any sort of endangered list.

Tom Cronk