A NEW scheme designed to help the endangered red squirrel is to receive a boost of £1.2million of lottery funding, but could come at the expense of the common but introduced grey squirrels.

A new four year programme called Red Squirrels United has been launched by The Wildlife Trusts, which has a branch in Wiltshire, along with other wildlife groups to protect and promote the native nutkin and its habitat – much of which has been lost to the invasive grey squirrel.

Working with groups in Northern Ireland and Scotland will make this the first UK-wide red squirrel initiative of its kind.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, which include Wiltshire Wildlife Trust, said: "We're delighted that HLF is supporting this fantastic project.

"Our beautiful native red squirrels deserve our protection in every part of the UK where they can still thrive.

“This investment will allow us to unite hundreds of people championing this charismatic creature into one UK force for good.

"It will build on decades of hard work and passionate commitment. Thank you to players of the National Lottery for allowing this.”

Community-based “rapid response teams” will be created involving 1,250 volunteers who will be trained to conserve key red squirrel populations threatened by their interaction with non-native grey squirrels.

These volunteers will be supported by partner organisation staff, building the large networks of red squirrel champions essential for conservation success.

Partners will maintain grey squirrel-free habitat where it already exists, for example on the island of Anglesey and in Kielder Forest in northern England; as well as extending current red squirrel protection zones in mid-Wales and Merseyside and implement a new whole country approach in Northern Ireland.

Trustee at the Heritage Lottery Fund, Tom Tew, said: “The ongoing plight of the red squirrel is perhaps one of the most alarming and well-known conservation issues that this country has seen.

"It's great to see such strong co-operation between conservation organisations which now, thanks to National Lottery players, have a great opportunity to capitalise on all the local work and build a co-ordinated, national response to the threats faced by this endangered species.”

HLF has endorsed outline proposals and awarded £75,400 up front to help develop the project. The full grant amount will be considered at a later date, following a second-round application.