POLL: Should the grey squirrel be culled to protect the red squirrel?

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The last safe haven for red squirrels on the English mainland is under unprecedented threat from an invasion of grey squirrels.

Conservationists protecting the native reds in Kielder Forest, Northumberland, say sightings of grey squirrels on the fringes of the forest have escalated in recent months and there have been more than a dozen greys spotted in the past four weeks alone.

Kielder is the only place that grey squirrels – which threaten the reds by bringing disease and competition for food – that have yet to establish themselves in mainland England.

With a nut safely stored in his mouth a red squirrel bounds around Kielder Forest, Northumberland Photo: OWEN HUMPHREYS/PA

An estimated 140,000 red squirrels remain in the UK, with just ten per cent of those in England and several thousand of them in Kielder.

Nick Mason, project manager for Red Squirrels Northern England, said until now Kielder had been a “very safe place for red squirrels”, with only “occasional sightings” of greys here and there near the forest.

The recent spate of sightings was “worrying”, he said, and conservationists are stepping up their efforts to try to protect the safe haven.

There have been more than a dozen sightings of grey squirrels in the fringes of Kielder Forest in recent weeks Photo: EPA

Mr Mason said they planned to use the new cash next year to install 40 new motion-activated camera traps in remote parts of the woodland to detect squirrel movements as part of an “early warning system”.

They also plan to recruit up to 50 new volunteers to monitor the cameras for the grey infiltrators and either alert them when an animal is spotted or “find and kill it” themselves.

Mr Mason said volunteers were trained to kill the greys humanely, without using firearms. The main method used is live capture using cage traps.

“We decant the animal to a hessian sack and the animal is knocked on the head with a ‘priest’ – a little stick”, he explained.

A red squirrel jumps across a wall in Kielder Forest, Northumberland Photo: Owen Humphreys/PA

In total 1,250 volunteers are expected to be recruited to “community-based rapid response teams” nationwide through the new lottery funding, although not all the volunteers will be involved in killing squirrels.

Most of the UK’s red squirrels are in Scotland, though there are also populations on the Isle of Wight and Anglesey protected by the natural barrier of the sea.

Funding will also be spent in Merseyside, where there is an enclave of red squirrels living near the coast. Conservationists are planning to extend the “red squirrel protection zone”, culling greys in the urban areas surrounding the reds’ habitat.

“We want to kill as few grey squirrels as possible to save as many reds as possible,” Mr Mason said.

The area of Britain inhabited by red squirrels has been contracting for the last 130 years as greys advance, passively transmitting diseases which are fatal for reds.

Even when disease isn’t a factor the reds can be lost because greys are more adaptable and breed faster, out-competing the reds for food and resources.

Grey squirrels, which are native to North America, are estimated to number about 2.5 million in the UK.

This article was first published by The Guardian on 11 Sep 2015.

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Py Holmes

Alan Young The grey squirrels were introduced by man. I love all squirrels, red, grey, foxers, hybrids, you name it. I think it is wrong to kill the grey squirrels just to protect the reds. It is wrong the say that red lives are worth more than greys 🙁 They are all Gods creatures. We never used to have grey squirrels in our area but they came and settled a few years ago and have learn to co-exist very well with the fox squirrels. we have hybrids now 🙂

Alan Young

What happened 100 years ago with the shooting clubs Trevor bears absolutely no relation to what is happening today in these fortunately more enlightened times when the aim is to protect the red squirrel and help it to return to it's rightful habitat.

Alan Young

Jenny Blue We stopped leaving nature alone long ago and it is far too late to leave things alone now, unless you want indigenous creatures like red squirrels, water voles, white-clawed crayfish etc. to disappear from our countryside at the hands of American grey squirrels, American mink and signal crayfish to name just a few. These are the innocent animals we should really be concerned about, and I most certainly am to the extent that I put my money where my mouth is!

Alan Young

Iain Gibson I don't think Iain that I have directed any insults towards you personally, certainly not on the scale that you directed them towards Simon Tucker above. And you also criticised him for "arrogantly outlining his cv", well you have certainly surpassed him in this department as what you have written is more like an essay than an outline. Although I compliment you most sincerely for what you have achieved and apologise wholeheartedly if I have offended you personally I must take issue with you last paragraph above starting with your conversance with Bosch and Lurz's works. Who are… Read more »

Alan Young

Well, well, well! You post a link to a website that has been manufactured to serve as a soapbox because the genuine scientific community regards them as a laughing stock. If you bother to do any research you will find that the father and son team who put together this useless, totally prejudiced piece of nonsense, which as far as I can tell has remained completely unchanged since I first came across it perhaps 20 years ago, have not a single qualification between them in the natural sciences, despite attempting to imply that they have by the use of that… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Simon Tucker With friends like you, who needs enemies? Perhaps you should pursue a career as a gamekeeper if you're so intent on slaughtering innocent animals who don't conform to your rules. Or maybe you could get a compassionate gene transplant.

Jenny Blue

Alan Young 'Animal rights ignorance'…so you assume only activists are against this…WRONG. Ordinary concerned individuals who take the trouble to educate themselves on the history surrounding this situation and who understand that further persecution of a species is wholly wrong. It is, as usual, the tinkering and interference of humans that has brought about the situation where one species is thriving while another is not and yet again, some humans wish to scapegoat one of them instead of looking at the real cause. It is you sir who is blinkered and you should be ashamed that you are happy to… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Alan Young Trading in insults is exactly what I would expect from a blinkered individual like yourself. You have labelled me as an activist and a loony, and a hypocrite, but you haven't a clue about my background. Unlike an earlier suggestion, I am not some ranting "anti" (the very use of that phrase indicates where you're coming from) who contributes nothing to science. Not only have I been a professional ecologist for 30 years, but for 50 years I have been a dedicated amateur naturalist and citizen scientist. I have given many years of my life to studying Hen… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Alan Young Trading in insults is exactly what I would expect from a blinkered individual like yourself. You have labelled me as an activist and a loony, and a hypocrite, but you haven't a clue about my background. Unlike an earlier suggestion, I am not some ranting "anti" (the very use of that phrase indicates where you're coming from) who contributes nothing to science. Not only have I been a professional ecologist for 30 years, but for 50 years I have been a dedicated amateur naturalist and citizen scientist. I have given many years of my life to studying Hen… Read more »

Alan Young

Simon Tucker Well done Simon. Since fieldwork for the last National Bird Atlas was completed my contribution has been limited to improving my small acre of woodland for wildlife and especially the bluebells. I am living in hope that my efforts will also attract dormice, for they are on my bucket-list. I have yet to meet an anti that does anything positive to help wildlife, they seem content to decry the efforts of others and claim the higher moral ground, perhaps there are one or two I have yet to come across, perhaps they are an endangered species too! Your… Read more »

Simon Tucker

Alan Young I shall be up and out at dawn tomorrow morning doing some habitat maintenance for native birdlife, doing population monitoring and adding to the considerable database that my lcoal Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission use to improve the local area for Marsh Tits – a red listed bird. I wonder just how much work these fluffy-bunny numpties do to improve the lives of any wildlife. I wonder how many of them know that Grey Squirrels are significant predators of birds' eggs and nestlings, adding to the survival pressures on our native birdlife?

Alan Young

Iain Gibson Hatred, sycophantic, fascist, irrational, arrogant, ideal angry conservationist?? I suspect that this is how you describe anyone you disagree with, especially if they may have more relevant qualifications and experience than your good self! Exactly who are you to decide if an expert on Countryfile or anything else is speaking utter tosh? If these experts are qualified and involved with the particular subject under discussion that puts their creedence way above any animal-rights campaigner.
And you "antis" don't like to sensationalise grey squirrel culling?
Here's another big word for you – hypocrisy!

Simon Tucker

Iain Gibson I don’t hate any non-human animals – these animals need eradicating for solid environmental reasons. With the Red Squirrel it is to allow them to expand their range back into suitable habitats that they have been forced out of by the Grey Squirrel and pox. It is not their fault that humans introduced them where they shouldn’t be. I don’t even hate you and your fluffy-bunny thinking: I genuinely pity you your ignorance.

Alan Young

Iain Gibson I am absolutely amazed at you! The full truth is available in "The Eurasian Red Squirrel" by Stefan Bosch and Dr Peter Lurz. Lurz in particular has been professionally studying reds in Scotland for over 20 years. This is the most comprehensive work on reds ever published and it deals with exactly how and why reds are being replaced by American greys. It is scientifical based and cites over 600 studies. It also deals with what is happening in Ireland and Italyas well as UK from both a disease and a competition perspective. Where, Iain, do you get… Read more »

Alan Young

We blame the greys because they are responsible Mandi, and if you are interested in the truth and the full facts see my response to Les Wallace above.

Alan Young

Well said Les. The full facts as understood by qualified scientists who have been studying squirrels for many years are so easy to discover if one just takes the time and trouble to look. The trouble is that animal-rights supporters could not be bothered. The full facts regarding red and grey squirrels are available in "The Eurasian Red Squirrel" byStefan Bosch and Dr Peter Lurz. This is the most comprehensive work on red squirrels ever published and the authors have been studying squirrels for over 20 years. It is scientifically based, cites over 600 scientific studies, and deals with exactly… Read more »

Alan Young

Linda Terry You, Linda, display typical animal rights ignorance of all the facts, and you will choose to believe only those that suit your misguided cause. Just research the pine marten (spelt with an "e" please note) reintroduction project and appraise yourself of what is happening in Ireland before you make stupid, crass comments like" so you don't think the pine "martin" (my inverted commas) would kill the red squirrels? I don't suppose you have researched the full story of red squirrels on Anglesey either, because what has happened and is still happening there just would not suit your blinkered… Read more »

Alan Young

Linda Terry You, Linda, display typical animal rights ignorance of all the facts, and you will choose to believe only those that suit your misguided cause. Just research the pine marten (spelt with an "e" please note) reintroduction project and appraise yourself of what is happening in Ireland before you make stupid, crass comments like" so you don't think the pine "martin" (my inverted commas) would kill the red squirrels? I don't suppose you have researched the full story of red squirrels on Anglesey either, because what has happened and is still happening there just would not suit your blinkered… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Polo Artist The six pictures just confirm my interpretation that Focusing on Wildlife presents us objectively with relevant questions and asks for our opinions. If you're familiar with this site, have you not noticed that the results of the polls are usually in favour of the so-called 'problem' species, and the vast majority of the comments are anti-culls. I find this mildly reassuring.

Polo Artist

Iain Gibson Just take a look at the 6 pictures above these comments on this page, a balanced article would also promote preservtion by other means, yes, there are other means, predators could be reintroduced, game shooting for sport could be banned, breeding non-native species for release could be stopped.

Iain Gibson

Simon, your hatred of non-native species is irrational, verging on psychopathic. Arrogantly outlining your CV and telling the rest of us how ignorant we are by comparison doesn't do you or the wildlife any favours. I've seen plenty 'experts' speaking utter tosh on Countryfile, particularly on the subject of alien invaders which the producers of the show just love to sensationalise. You come across as an ideal angry conservationist for them to feature. Apart from anything else, your fascist-like proposal to "eradicate the lot" would cost an absolute fortune and draw much-needed funding away from sensible conservation projects. It's already… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Simon Tucker, that's appallingly unprofessional language from the owner of a consultancy – I presume and hope you're not an Ecologist handing out that sort of misleading advice. If so, it's even more worrying that you adopt such a cavalier attitude and ignore the good science which discounts the populist anti-Grey Squirrel pseudoscientific propaganda that the Grey is responsible for the Red's decline. That's simply mass deception taking place, distorting the science. It's not even chronologically or historically accurate. Anyone who uses the derogatory cliche "fluffy-bunny tree hugger" to describe caring people who seek the truth does not deserve to… Read more »

Iain Gibson

Polo, by "this site" are you referring to Focusing on Wildlife? It certainly highlights the level of culling which takes place, but I've seen no evidence that the site promotes culling for any species. Perhaps this impression has been gained by the Guardian article quoted here, which does argue from a pro-culling angle. However FoW gives us a clear choice in its poll to vote yes or no, and provokes a welcome (from my point of view) reaction to the killing brigades.

Pamela Mitchell

It's a difficult one. I do feel that thet Grey squirrel has been allowed to become too prolific but I think much of that is down to a lack of support for the habitat for Red Squirrels. If we can address the balance humanely then that would be my preference but what I don't want to see is our native Red Squirrels becoming extinct. We really can't ignore this lack of support any longer.

Simon Tucker

The know nothing fluffy-bunny brigade are out in force on this thread. Linda Terry – if ignorance is bliss you must be in a constant state of Nirvana. Apart from being born and bred in the UK, been a farmworker, having a degree in zoology, having had a dozen or so wildlife articles published in a range of natural history and science journals, now a pretty much full time active conservationist (and having been on Countryfile talking about and demonstrating conservation methods – and just filmed by the MPA for their biodiversity awards) my credentials are pretty sparse but probably… Read more »

Simon Tucker

And they need slaughtering. Apparently they are good as a pie filling, so no need to waste them

Les Wallace

Yes they'd kill some, but a lot of animals do such as birds of prey. The issue is that martens and red squirrels co evolved and co existed for tens of thousands of years so established a predator prey balance. Greys are the new kids and martens find em very easy prey. If the martens had not been persecuted in the first place grey squirrels would probably never got established in first place.

Linda Terry

So you don't think the Pine Martin would kill the red squirrels?

Linda Terry

You really don't know what you're talking about. The Reds were hunted to near extinction. The red squirrels that are in the UK were actually brought from Scandinavia I am sure you are not a native of Britain either

Mandi Simpson

We have wiped out how much of their habitat already yet we blame the greys. Perhaps if humans hadn't destroyed the environment there would be enough space for the Reds too

Lisa Jane Marriott

There are No invasive animals in the WORLD!!

Trevor Weeks

The only reason we have so few red squirrels is because of all the shooting clubs which used to kill them in their millions!

Sindy Smith

All living beings matter!

Laurie Benoit

No cullings of any animal.

Peter Matthew

1. Climate change, and deforestation for agriculture, industry and housing have resulted in loss of habitat suitable for Red Squirrels 2. Changes in tree species planted in recent years have favoured greys, with significant red squirrel habitat disappearing 3. Grey Squirrels don't chase Red Squirrels away. It is simply a gradual ecological replacement due to Greys being more adaptable. Plenty of evidence shows the two species living together for significant periods. 4. In addition, humans have persecuted Red Squirrels as pests for many years, driving them to near extinction 5. Red Squirrels, like Grey Squirrels before, have been affected by… Read more »

Polo Artist

This site seems to want to cull everything, is it run by the Countryside Alliance?
Eradicating the Squirrel Pox would be the best start as this is also spread by Reds to Reds, reintroduction of natural predators would also be a help, but the CA would not like that, Greys and Reds live together without much fuss in other countries, if you are interested in conservation, maybe culling grouse shooting and other barbaric countryside pursuits by the elite would go to benefit the local wildlife a lot more.

Natalie Spencer

The decline in red squirrels has more to do with the massive man made reduction of coniferous woodlands in England, than the introduction of the grey squirrel. We have planted woodlands that suit greys and not reds. Culling will not work whilst we are imposing our ideas of ecology upon nature.

Bernice Lash Bowden

No

Les Wallace

trying to get pine marten re established in the kielder forest would probably be best long term option. In meantime yes should cull greys.

Marilyn-Brian Ashman

Never ! Leave Nature to fend for itself .

Simon Tucker

Not just Grey Squirrels but all invasive species should be culled – eradicated from our landscape. There are too many fluffy-bunny tree huggers who just do not understand the harsh realities of conservation: Grey Squirrel survival = Red Squirrel extinction. Stopping the persecution of our native top predators and other wildlife (the Pine Marten, for example) could help to do the job on the Grey, as seems to be the case in Ireland, but in the meantime the Grey should be eradicated by any means possible.

Alan Petrie

Too much culling of wildlife already. Habitat changes are needed to encourage red squirrels not culling of greys.