They were once widespread across the UK, but now dedicated conservation work is necessary to ensure Scotland's red squirrels can thrive. 

But not many will go the lengths of Ruth Holmes who spends up to eight hours a day monitoring and supporting a budding population of the species in a village near Stirling. 

The 42-year-old social media manager has now been named one of 500 Coronation Champions for her diligent volunteer work surrounding red squirrels in Buchlyvie. 

The awards were launched by the Royal Voluntary Service with Queen Consort Camilla helping select the final champions. 

Ms Holmes said she "wasn't aware" of the awards until a local resident asked if they could put in a nomination.

"I was not expecting to win, I didn’t expect any of this," she said. 

"It was quite a surprise when I got the email that I was one of the 500 throughout the UK."

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She first started her volunteer work after red squirrels were spotted in the Auchentroig area near the village in 2019. 

"When I started, there were probably ten squirrels in the area and now there’s probably 50 to 60," Ms Holmes added. 

Her love for the native rodent, however, goes as far back as her childhood after spending family holidays in Nethy Bridge in Strathspey.

"You used to see loads of red squirrels running around there and I have been fascinated ever since," she said.

"They are such great characters and it can be quite funny.

"There is a lot of antics they get up to, chasing each other and everything like that. It’s always entertaining."

To help keep track of the population she often names them based on their distinctive features, including the colour of their tails or ears.

Ms Holmes added: "There’s one called Marmalade and his chest and body colour are a chestnut colour and his tail was gingery orange with blots of strawberry blonde around his ears so there could have only been one name."

A lack of grey squirrels, which outcompete the native red species as well as transmit a fatal disease, has been one of the key factors allowing the population to grow.

The volunteer emphasises that a feeder box in the woods has also been crucial as it provides supplemental feeding when natural food is scarce between March and April.

Buchlyvie residents also support the native species by alerting the volunteer of any sightings.

After concerns were raised about speeding drivers on the B835 posing a threat to the small mammals, residents took note. 

"People are now more aware of the squirrels and will drive slowly," she said. 

"There are other smaller signs up and a family in the village made signs themselves and that has contributed to the traffic slowing down."

Almost 5000 people were nominated for the Coronation Champions Awards. 

A volunteer from Nairn, Douglas Sewell, was also one of the 500 to receive royal recognition.

The Herald:

He impressed judges with his long-term commitment to volunteering with Chest, Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS) in various roles including as a Trustee.

“Volunteering is a very important and rewarding part of my life and I am honoured to be recognised as a Coronation Champion," Mr Sewell said.

“I am grateful that through volunteering I am able to support other people who have experienced stroke as I have, as well as those living with our other conditions, to live their lives to the full.” 

Chief executive of the charity Jane-Claire Judson praised his "dedication and commitment".

She said: "He absolutely deserves to be named a Coronation Champion.”