Local climber Chris Hingley worked with Becky to install the bridge in June 2017, with support from Highland Council. Kinloch Woodlands SCIO and Ben Shieldaig Estate, owners of the land on either side of the road, met the £300 costs.
There have been trials of road bridges for red squirrels in a few other areas of the UK, reportedly with mixed results. Use by squirrels appears to depend on how bridges are sited. At Shieldaig, Trees for Life left trailcams in place for more than a year – allowing enough time for two litters of red squirrels to be born – to monitor whether the population was using the bridge.
The Peoples Trust for Endangered Species says an estimated one million mammals are killed on UK roads each year. Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels has said in recent years that three per cent of red squirrel sightings recorded via its website are dead on roads, with the actual figure perhaps far higher.
Today only an estimated 120,000 reds remain in Scotland, their numbers decimated by reduction of their forest homes to isolated remnants. Grey squirrels, introduced to the UK in the 1800s, also outcompete the native reds, and spread the squirrel pox virus – to which they are immune but which is lethal to reds.
For the last three years, Trees for Life has been carefully relocating red squirrels from their strongholds in Inverness-shire and Morayto isolated fragments of suitable Highland forest where reds would once have lived, but to which they cannot return on their own.
The successful project has seen 140 red squirrels released so far, including atShieldaig. The reintroduced populations have been seen exploring their new woodland homes, and they have been breeding and spreading into new areas. Numerous young squirrels have been sighted at the release sites throughout 2018.
Through its The Reds Return appeal, Trees for Life is raising £22,000 to enable it to reintroduce red squirrels in up to eight more woodlands in the northwest Highlands, where new populations will be able to flourish, safe from competition and disease from grey squirrels.
See www.treesforlife.org.uk/appeal or call 01309 691292.