ALARM bells have been rung for Scotland’s red squirrels after the first case of the deadly squirrelpox virus was identified north of the central belt.

Experts with the University of Edinburgh warned the case could be a “major threat” and the “prelude to squirrelpox expansion both locally and further northward”.

It comes after a walker found a red squirrel with ulcers and scabs around its eyes and mouth in woodland to the north of Dunfermline, in Fife.

The University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies received the animal’s body and a post-mortem confirmed it had squirrelpox.

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The pox is almost always fatal to red squirrels – usually within two weeks of infection – and an outbreak can wipe out the majority or all of a local population, according to the umbrella body UK Squirrel Accord.

Squirrelpox can be carried by grey squirrels but it does not affect them. Symptoms include ulcers, scabs and weeping lesions on the face, paws and genitalia, all of which can prevent reds from eating, drinking or moving.

To prevent the spread of the disease, anyone with a squirrel or bird feeder in or around Dunfermline is being asked to take them down.

The National: An image of a red squirrel which died from squirrelpoxAn image of a red squirrel which died from squirrelpox (Image: Keilidh Ewan)

The University of Edinburgh’s Liam Wilson said: “This is a worrying development for red squirrels in Scotland, as this case north of the central belt may be the prelude to squirrelpox expansion both locally and further northward, although more investigative work is required to fully assess this risk.

“This case also highlights the key role members of the public have in wildlife conservation, as this case was detected from the submission of a dead red squirrel by a member of the public.

“If any members of the public come across further dead red squirrels in and around Dunfermline, these can be posted to us for examination.”

Nicole Still, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) programme manager at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “We are extremely concerned about this latest news and are asking the local community in Dunfermline to take immediate action and protect red squirrels by taking in all garden and woodland wildlife feeders for the next month, as these can contribute to the spread of the disease from greys to reds and between reds once infected.

“We are also asking for everybody to keep a close eye out for, and take photos of, any sick looking red squirrels and email these into us, as well as report all sightings of both species to our website to inform local efforts.”

People can report their sightings of both red and grey squirrels at, along with emailing photos of sick reds to

Details for how to post carcasses to the University of Edinburgh’s Vet School can also be found on the site.

Although squirrelpox is not considered harmful to humans, anyone who sees a sick red squirrel is advised not to approach it, but instead contact the project for advice.