A FLASH of russet in the tree above me in woodland near Dollar, and then an almighty leap as this red squirrel bounded from one branch to another.

The squirrel was soon gone from sight, hidden in among the turning autumnal leaves.

It was a good sighting, and also an increasingly frequent one in this part of Clackmannanshire, with red squirrels doing well.

The areas around Dollar, Muckhart and Forestmill all have good populations and there are some signs they are spreading slowly westwards in the Wee County.

It is well-known that grey squirrels out-compete reds, but in recent years predatory pine martens have become established in this margin of Clackmannanshire, which has helped to reduce the number of greys.

Martens are proficient climbers and powerful enough to take squirrels. However, the smaller red is so agile that it can usually dodge a pine marten by fleeing to flimsy branches on the very edge of the tree canopy before leaping over to the next tree.

For a pine marten, the less nimble grey is much easier to catch, especially since it spends much more of its time on the ground than the red.

Thus, the corresponding reduction in grey squirrels has benefited the reds in terms of reduced competition.

Interesting recent research has also shown that red squirrels are better at detecting pine marten scent than greys and are better able to avoid them.

In the pine marten, the red squirrel has found an unlikely ally, but threats still remain to our precious populations of these delightful animals, most notably a virus called squirrel pox, which greys carry and are immune to, but which can be fatal to reds.