A researcher from the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences conducted a survey to discover whether red squirrels living in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park were using rope bridges installed by a local wildlife group.
This kind of bridge is usually installed at sites where there have been fatalities recorded but up until now no-one has collected any data to show whether or not they are actually used by the animals.
Stephen Lockwood, who is completing a masters' degree in biodiversity and conservation, took specialist training in tree climbing so that he could to set up equipment to record the squirrels' movements. In addition to using cameras he also used tubes filled with nuts and sticky tape to gather hairs and clay moulds to record the animals' footprints.
He says: "This isn't just about cutting down on the number of squirrels killed on the roads. We also know that when a natural habitat becomes fragmented, such as by the introduction of unnatural barriers like roads, there is a lesser chance of the species surviving in the long term because the opportunities for breeding are fewer. The bridges hopefully encourage the squirrels to explore a wider area and therefore lessen the chance of inbreeding. By finding out whether they actually use these bridges we can assess how useful it is to install them."
Ruhi Thallon, from the Cowal Red Squirrel Group, which commissioned the survey, says: "An SNH grant for rope bridges was successfully applied for by the local community of Strachur and two have been erected across the main road there but we needed to find out how cost-effective they were before spending any more money putting them up at other sites. When we looked into it we were surprised to discover that no one has ever really tested the efficiency of these bridges. The research that Stephen from the University of Leeds has now carried out should help us make our case when we apply for funding for future projects."
Having analysed his findings, Stephen has now concluded that the creatures are definitely using the bridges, but that it is important to put them in the right place. He says, "In areas where there is a high population of squirrels then the new bridges we put up were being used within a couple of days, not surprisingly we also found that baiting the bridges with food also encouraged the squirrels to use them. This kind of information has never been collected before and it could now be used by other wildlife conservation groups or even by developers when considering plans for new road-building projects that cut through squirrel habitat."
David Blakeley, from the Institute of Integrative and Comparative Biology at the University of Leeds, feels this has been a very worthwhile project: "Our Masters programme in Biodiversity and Conservation provides us with an opportunity to conduct the kind of research that could have a real impact on British wildlife, this project is just one example."
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000