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Red Squirrel Recovery Network

Project Summary - April 2024

The Red Squirrel Recovery Network is a new project which aims to build on conservation efforts of the last 20 years and lay the foundations for species recovery. It is led by a partnership of six different conservation organisations, with support from leading red squirrel conservation agencies.

The project is a shared ambition for red squirrels in Northern England and Southern Scotland and partners are working together to request funding from National Lottery Heritage Fund to make it happen.


How did we get here?

The partnership has long held a strategic goal for a ‘big’ bid to National Lottery to support red squirrel conservation. There have been many delays and it is a long time since we first started talking about this but we are no less determined to see it happen. If we are successful in securing funding, this will be the first time partners have come together to deliver a cross border project which co-ordinates effort across the red squirrel population range.



As partners, we are all committed to delivering government targets for nature recovery (reversing biodiversity loss and recovering 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030); these targets underpin our strategies and business plans. We recognise that we cannot commit to this if we are also going to stand back and watch the red squirrel go extinct – ensuring this doesn’t happen is absolutely embedded into our core priorities for nature.

Partners have been working together since 2019 to develop a detailed project and application to National Lottery Heritage Fund…

2019 > Partnership and project development to bring together the Return of the Reds project

March 2020 > Round 1 application submitted to National Lottery Heritage Fund to support the Return of the Reds project in northern England. Many volunteer groups in England were involved in contributing to the application process through consultation activities.

April 2020 > NLHF announced that they had suspended all grants. Any new applications submitted were withdrawn by NLHF as their priorities changed to focus on the pandemic.

December 2020 > NLHF announce that grants will open again in 2021 and we were advised that we needed to start again with a new Expression of Interest. Previous applications could not be considered. We also became aware of the need to support continuing activity in Scotland.

Throughout 2021 > Project development with partners to meet new NLHF priorities and to develop a way forward to extend the project into Scotland.

March 2022 > EOI submitted for a revised ‘Return of the Reds’ project which would extend across the whole red squirrel range in northern England and southern Scotland

May 2022 > Partners started to develop a Round 1 application based on feedback from NLHF. This included changing the project name to Red Squirrel Recovery Network.

February 2023 > Round 1 application submitted to NLHF for the Red Squirrel Recovery Network

June 2023 > NLHF confirmed our Round 1 application had been successful. They offered a grant of just over £150k (across 5 partners) to develop a full project application. We then started a “Permission to Start” process to put grant contracts in place

August 2023 > “Permission to Start” process complete and grant announced in the media

September 2023 > Recruitment and procurement period

November 2023 > Development Phase started


Responding to needs and opportunities

As part of the most recent submission (February 2023) we consulted local groups and volunteers. 227 volunteers responded to a survey. Most (but not all) were part of a local squirrel group. They told us…

The biggest challenges facing volunteer groups:

1. Lack of public awareness about the threats posed by greys (71%)

2. Not enough volunteers for conservation activities (61%)

4. Lack of public awareness about the need to protect reds (56%)

5. Difficulty recruiting volunteers (43%)

Most respondents would like to see more volunteers involved. In particular, there is a need to engage more people in grey squirrel control work. Other comments were about increasing the number of people aware of red squirrel conservation, reporting sightings of greys, recruiting younger volunteers, improving community involvement, and recognizing that volunteers are spread very thinly in rural areas.


This supported our own understanding of needs and reinforced what the partnership was working towards. We also wanted the project to be able to leave a legacy, increase the number of people taking action for red squirrels and support new ‘game changing solutions’. As such, some of the grant will fund scientific field trials for the use of fertility trials. We are allocating a smaller amount of funding to allow us to understand the potential impact of pine martens. The project will also increase capacity to support groups to work with local landowners to put stewardship/funding agreements in place and to share best practice throughout the volunteer network. A volunteer training programme will be developed in response to local needs.

We also want to provide new opportunities for people in disadvantaged communities to connect to nature. This is something that all partners support and we have identified an opportunity to include this in targeted communities within the project area.


What will the project cost?

Our estimated cost for the RSRN project is £6.2million over 5 years, supporting activity in five counties (Lancashire, Cumbria, Northumberland, Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders).

£4.8million of this will be grant funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Just over £700,000 is expected to be donated as in kind and £650,000 will be match funding from other sources (some of this is existing annual income).

The detailed budget will be confirmed as we develop the Round 2 application. Costs will include:

✓ Increased staff capacity

✓ Sustaining current grey squirrel control contracts

✓ Fertility control field trials (working with Animal & Plant Health Agency and University of York)

✓ Community small grants scheme

✓ Support to groups to engage landowners and access agri-environment schemes

✓ Ongoing monitoring to inform action and improve understanding

✓ Improved communications and PR

✓ Equipment/expenses and training for squirrel groups

✓ Community activities in targeted areas

✓ Partnership networking activities and visits to other projects


What difference will this make?

This is a significant grant request but even a multi-million pound investment will not solve all the problems for red squirrels – there is no magic wand! The Red Squirrel Recovery Network will strengthen the network of people taking action for reds, provide more capacity to put longer term funding solutions in place, diversify the volunteer community and trial new solutions.

By 2030 our goal is that the network of groups and organisations working together for red squirrels will be stronger, underpinned by new scientific methodologies and supported by sustainable funding agreements.

NLHF have told us that this large partnership bid will have no impact on the availability of smaller funds for volunteer groups. They welcome applications from volunteer-led groups and they will support grey squirrel control costs, as long as this is part of a project that meets their outcomes and priorities. If the Red Squirrel Recovery Network successfully secures funding, project staff will be able to provide advice and support to groups to help them develop funding smaller/local requests to lottery and other grant funders.

The Red Squirrel Recovery Network is ambitious but it has to be. We are not imagining that it will replace the incredible work done by volunteer groups, but it will add to this and ensure that groups have access to new solutions as they arise. It will also engage more people in different ways – ensuring that more people understand the need to protect red squirrels and looking at new ways of getting people involved (including connecting more people with local groups in their area). We have to think bigger than we imagine possible – if we don’t do this we won’t achieve the change that we know needs to happen.


What happens next?

We have been successful at Round 1 of the NLHF process. This means we have secured a grant to support the project ‘Development Phase’. During the next few months we will put together a detailed Activity Plan and other documents for NLHF included a detailed methodology for fertility control field trials, Communications Plan, Audience Engagement Plan & Volunteer Plan, Conservation Plan, Community Grants Scheme, job/role descriptions and contract briefs, detailed budget and an outline legacy plan/exit strategy. These will be informed by consultation with groups and other stakeholders.


We are aiming to submit the Round 2 application in November 2024 but this is subject to lottery sign off. If we submit in November we should hear the outcome of our application early in 2025 and we aim to start project delivery in summer next year. If funded, the project will last until summer 2030.


If successful we will appoint a Project Advisory Committee to support our partnership. Local volunteer groups will be represented on this as well as other stakeholders from the conservation and community sectors.



On Thursday 20th June at 6:30 pm there will be a webinar to brief the whole volunteer community in Scotland and England in more detail and provide the opportunity for us to address questions to the Project Manager (Mike Denbury, Red Squirrels Northern England & Northumberland Wildlife Trust) and others.


Kindly put this in your diary!


We will be given the weblink enabling us to join the webinar in due course and will pass it on.

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