Grey squirrels are not to blame for the red squirrels being endangered. This is just a myth, perpetuated by those who don’t understand how nature works. You are invited to visit the website of Professor Acorn who will gladly put you straight! He and his fellow chums are fed up of being labelled the villains.
The awful truth is that the UK government has listened to just one side, and now it is illegal for wildlife rescues or vets to let grey squirrels live, they have to kill any that come to them. The culls involve clubbing some alive, and leaving kittens to die. Other methods include Warfarin (which causes awful bleeding) or even shooting squirrels in trees, which also damages endangered trees.
Are Squirrels Native?
Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK from North America. And red squirrels are sub-species of Scandinavian squirrels, where pine trees are their natural home. And that’s where the issue lies. The reason given to cull grey squirrels is that they carry a disease called poxvirus. They have now built up immunity to this, and also have varied diets (for instance, they can live on acorns). Red squirrels have poor immunity and less food, which is why the government wants to cull grey squirrels.
But this is such a knee-jerk reaction. Red squirrels have low immunity, due to little food. They can’t digest acorns and have few pine forests left. They have lost their habitat, which means a weak immune system. Nearly all red squirrel populations in the UK are now found in Northumberland or Scotland, where we still have ample pine forests.
Why Culling Squirrels Won’t Work
Once red squirrels have their natural habitats restored, they have more food to eat and better immunity. This is the answer, but the government instead wants you to feed red squirrels (which won’t work, as they can’t digest the food given) and cull grey squirrels. London’s Urban Squirrels rescue says this is madness.
Other arguments given to cull squirrels are lacking in evidence too. Yes, grey squirrels attack birds’ nests. But so do red squirrels and cats. And stripping bark from woodland trees is actually good for other wildlife to access grubs. Culling also just makes squirrels produce more kittens, to take their place.
The government allows mass breeding of pheasants, although breeding too many (for shoots by rich landowners) causes a million road accidents each year, and too many pheasants (bred artificially to be shot) leads to them eating native adders and rare sand lizards). The constant damage to level the ground for grouse shoots also harms peatlands, which is believed to be one reason for increased flooding. One law for some?
Rescue charity Wildlife Aid says not allowing rescues will mean help will go underground, and do more harm than good. Founder Simon Cowell (not that one) says ‘The proposed regulation sends the wrong message to a public which is more concerned about the state of the natural world than ever. It is saddening to see such ill-informed policy at a time when great strides have been made in raising awareness of environmental issues’.
When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. John Muir
How to Naturally Help Red Squirrels
In Ireland (which along with Italy is the only other country where you have both types of squirrels), pine martens are now naturally taking care of populations. Because grey squirrels tend to live more on the ground, red squirrels are not so affected. This is sad, but a more natural and humane method of grey squirrel control. Another method (supported by Prince Charles) is to introduce oral contraception to grey squirrels, by lacing it in with nutella. Government could help, by funding humane charities to develop a vaccine.
Animal Aid is at the forefront of the campaign to try to educate the public. They are aghast that Wildlife Trusts (which are against badger culling) are not opposed to culling, and instead want better tree-planting patterns and red squirrels established on islands, to build up immune systems. Read The True History of Grey Squirrels in Britain by wildlife consultant John Bryant.
How You Help (all) Squirrels
- Don’t feed squirrels artificially. Grey squirrels can live on wild food, but red squirrels can’t digest acorns). Donate to plant trees instead.
- Avoid squirrel-proof bird feeders, as many squirrels get trapped in them.
- Don’t wear fur. Many types of fur come from squirrels worldwide. If you run a small shop, get a free sticker from Fur Free Retailer to show customers that all items in your shop are guaranteed fur-free. You can donate old fur coats to wildlife shelters. They use them as surrogate mums for orphans.
- From Canada, buy Wonder Forest Watercolour Brush Set that is squirrel-friendly! Made with synthetic fur, the tips are pointed to razor precision for the finest detail work, and hold water extremely well. Sold in a set of 6, you can also buy a Wash Brush. Recycle the plastic covering in supermarket bins.
- Sign the petition at 38 Degrees to stop the grey squirrel cull, and instead plant more pine forests and use humane methods to deter grey squirrel populations.