THEY still control the great cities of Scotland's Central Belt. But Grey Squirrels are in retreat in the north as their red cousins mount a rear-guard action.

A major new public survey has mapped populations of the nation's favourite bushy-tailed critters, both the invading aliens and defiant natives.

Some 600 people reported 828 sightings in just one week of the Great Scottish Squirrel Survey.

Mel Tonkin, project manager at Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, the group behind the survey, said: “Sightings records give us a good indication of how red and grey squirrel populations are distributed. "Monitoring changes in these populations over time helps us understand the situation and make better conservation decisions."

“We’d like to thank everyone who took the time to get outdoors and take part in the survey.”

The campaign, which ran from 23 – 29 September,

resulted in a map showing that red squirrels are still widespread across the north of the country, with a large number of sightings reported in Scotland’s Central Lowlands to the north of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

HeraldScotland:

In the North East, the only grey squirrel sightings were concentrated in Aberdeen. Targeted control work has significantly reduced this population in recent years, and efforts have been rewarded with increasingly frequent red squirrel sightings in city locations such as Duthie Park and Aberdeen University.

Most grey sightings came from the Central Belt, especially Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, the species, originally from America, were also scattered northwards across Taysi

HeraldScotland:

Most grey sightings came from the Central Belt, especially Glasgow and Edinburgh. However, the species, originally from America, were also scattered northwards across Tayside and much of the south of Scotland.

However, a National Lottery-funded project appears to be making good progress in its ambition to maintain Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park as a ‘red only’ zone, with work in the wider Stirling area also beginning to having a positive impact.

Researchers were also heartened by sightings in the Scottish Borders. These echo recent findings from the project’s annual spring survey that there are still healthy red squirrel populations in such areas such as Selkirk and Peebles, but grey squirrels are well established, particularly in the east of the region.

Reds also have a foothold in the south west, despite grey squirrel presence and recent squirrelpox disease outbreaks along the Solway coast

In total 630 red squirrel and 198 grey squirrels were reported, almost five times as many sightings as is reported in a typical week. The data is particularly valuable because it includes many parts of Scotland that are not directly covered by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels’ ongoing population monitoring work.

HeraldScotland:

Ms Tonkin added “More people went out looking for red squirrels in the survey, which isn’t too surprising as our native reds are one of Scottish wildlife’s star attractions. However, we suspect that a good many more grey squirrels could have been reported from central and southern Scotland.

“While they may not be as exciting to see, grey squirrel sightings are very valuable, especially in areas where they are spreading into red squirrel territory. While out looking for any species of squirrel there is also the opportunity to encounter all sorts of other wildlife and we hope people enjoyed their first Great Scottish Squirrel Survey.”