An emergency squirrelpox outbreak response has been launched after multiple red squirrels were found dead near Lockerbie. 

At least 10 of the distinct red-coloured rodents were found dead in Johnsfield over the past few weeks.

Nicole Still, programme manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) labelled the potential outbreak "devastating" and urged people to report sightings of squirrels. 

The disease is often carried by non-native grey squirrels but it can be lethal to the red species. 

Greys, which were first introduced to Britain from North America in the 19th century, also out-compete red squirrels for resources.

Squirrelpox has previously seen local numbers of reds dwindle and is usually fatal within two weeks to the sensitive population. 

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Locals have been told to expect increased staff and volunteer presence amid efforts to control the grey population. 

Project officer for SSRS Andrew Hodgkinson said: "This is a particularly vulnerable time for red squirrels, as they prepare for the upcoming mating season and increase contact with one another.

"We have deployed our emergency squirrelpox outbreak response measures, and as such locals can expect to see an increased staff and volunteer presence in the area as we increase grey control efforts in the region in a bid to stem the outbreak.”

Symptoms of squirrelpox include weeping lesions on the face, paws and genitalia, which prevent the red squirrel from eating, drinking or moving. 

HeraldScotland:

The first known outbreak of the disease in Scotland took place in 2007 near Lockerbie. 

Pox-carrying grey squirrels are now considered to be widespread throughout South Scotland - posing a threat to the local red population. 

Targeted control work has managed to continue to keep the grey numbers away from the reds and allow the population to recover. 

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Research published by Professor Andy White and colleagues has shown that when grey squirrel numbers are kept low, red squirrels are given enough time to repopulate an area after suffering a major decline.

Ms Still added: "Members of the public can help by reporting all sightings of red and grey squirrels to us via our website, thoroughly cleaning all garden feeders with an anti-viral solution which is available from most local farm supply shops, taking feeders down for 2-4 weeks, and posting any dead red squirrel carcasses found to the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies for post-mortem analysis.”

Scots are encouraged to report their sightings of both red and grey squirrels at scottishsquirrels.org.uk.