AN ADVERT for bottled water has been condemned by a conservation group, after grey squirrels were used instead of native reds.
The Highland Spring advert, voiced by Hollywood actress Emma MacDonald, features a host of ‘native’ animals, including a rabbit, deer, ladybird, owl and a mole, frolicking in the Scottish country side.
But Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) was appalled to see the grey squirrel, which was artificially introduced from North America, feature in the ad instead of the native red.
The charity, which works to save the native breed, hit out at the “oversight” by the Blackford-based firm.
However Highland Spring defended their ad, saying they’d only been able to find a grey trained squirrel.
Ken Neil of SSRS said: “Considering they are a Scottish company, showing Scottish wildlife and based in Perthshire in red squirrel central, I cannot understand what they were thinking. It’s the kind of oversight that defies belief.”
But a spokesman for Highland Spring said they tried to find a red squirrel for the advert, but could not.
The company were keen to add that they never intended to offend anyone by the new advertisement.
“We are privileged to have so many beautiful creatures on Highland Spring’s land.
“We appreciate, quite rightly, that there are strong views on the conservation of red squirrels and our ad was certainly not intended to cause offence.
“We wanted to create a cheerful commercial which was an accurate picture of life on our organic land, featuring animals which live there.
“The filming required using trained animals and we took advice from experienced animal handlers on the selection of all creatures featured in the advert.
“While both red and grey squirrels can be found on our protected catchment, endangered red squirrels are not readily available for use in filming – although we tried hard to find one.
“We were advised therefore to work with the more common grey squirrel and took the decision to do so given that they are also resident on our land.”
Experts believe red squirrels could be extinct in the country by the end of the century as the species is now threatened.
It is thought that the introduction of grey squirrels fromNorth Americahas caused this decline due to disease and predation.
Grey squirrels are native to North America and were first introduced to Britainin the 19th century and now there are over 300,000 of them in Scotland, compared to just 120,000 reds.
Greys are bigger than reds and carry a virus – squirrel pox – which causes them no harm but which is lethal to reds.
Speaking last month, Dr Mel Tonkin from SSRS said: “The disease is travelling so rapidly that it’s beginning to be quite scary.”
“It’s making giant strides that we weren’t expecting. We’ve got greys carrying the squirrel pox close to big populations of squirrels in the central belt. Until these last couple of months I was quite hopeful about our chances. Now it’s on a knife edge.”