Red squirrels land lottery bonus
A project to help save Scotland's red squirrels has secured initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The scheme would see the development of a network of active conservation groups around the country.
Development funding of £37,800 has been awarded to the Scottish Wildlife Trust to progress its plans to seek a full grant of £2.46m.
The Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels' developing community action plan aims to protect remaining core populations.
Red squirrel numbers have declined dramatically across the UK with about 160,000 remaining - about 75% of them in Scotland.
They face threats from habitat loss and non-native grey squirrels which compete with them for food and can pass on diseases.
The Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels network covers north east Scotland, Tayside, southern Scotland and Argyll, The Trossachs and Stirling.
Project manager Dr Mel Tonkin said: "We're delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support.
"Our work over the last seven years has shown that it is possible to reverse the decline of our much-loved red squirrels and safeguard them for future generations, but to do this we need to keep up the protection work for a long time to come.
"People love red squirrels - we want to harness that enthusiasm and get communities involved in their conservation."
She said the grant would give them the chance to share expertise with a range of people who were "passionate about their local red squirrel population".
Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: "Catching a glimpse of an elusive red squirrel is a magical experience.
"Thanks to players of the National Lottery we are able to give our initial support to a project which will protect this rare creature.
"By working together, communities will give red squirrels the best chance of survival, so that their antics are a source of delight for all long into the future."