Landowners are to be paid millions of pounds of public money to cull grey squirrels under the first national plan for managing their numbers.
Under the scheme, designed to protect red squirrels and woodland, only those who agree to deal with the animals on their land will be eligible for forestry grants from the Government or European Union.
But they will be able to apply for funding of £100 per hectare per year for five years to help them cull the squirrels using whatever method they prefer.
The money could be used to buy warfarin to poison them, or for buying traps so they can be trapped and shot.
There will also be Government funding available to help neighbouring landowners cooperate to control grey squirrel numbers together.
Tens of thousands of grey squirrels could be culled each year under the new plans, which will be set in motion this month.
Further sums will be spent on scientific research into vaccines to stop the animals breeding so rapidly.
The requirement to cull grey squirrels would affect landowners who had identified the animals as an issue and who wanted to receive funding for woodland and other related projects.
The plans are laid out in a Forestry Commission document, which says that grey squirrels “out-compete our native red squirrels as well as spreading the squirrel pox virus to them.”
The animals are also blamed for causing up to £10 million in damage to British woodlands every year, acting as a disincentive to the planting and managing of trees.
The document says: “Efforts to control grey squirrels in England’s woodlands need to be more effective, better coordinated and sustained in order to protect and enhance our vulnerable red squirrel population and to reduce impacts on woodlands so that they can thrive for biodiversity and economic interests.”
The Forestry Commission said it could not put an exact figure on how much money would be handed to landowners to fund the culls but said the new grants were likely to be worth millions of pounds.
The plan was drawn up after the Government asked the Forestry Commission to review the current approach to grey squirrel control and assess how effective existing measures were in addressing “the threats posed by grey squirrels both to woodlands and to red squirrels.”
In March, Oliver Heald, the Solicitor General, told MPs that eradicating the grey squirrel was “no longer considered feasible.”
But in October, the Prince of Wales ordered a cull of grey squirrels on the Duchy of Cornwall estate in a bid to protect the red variety and it is now hoped other landowners will follow his lead once the new policy comes in force.
Grey squirrels were imported from America to the UK in the 19th century, when they were seen as a fashionable addition to estates.
The UK has around five million of the animals, while the number of red squirrels is estimated at between 120,000 and 140,000, with 75 per cent of them in Scotland.
Animal charities are opposing the plans for culling greys.
Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, said: “People have been responsible for wiping out the red squirrel. It’s an excuse to blame the grey squirrel.
“They’re on a list of animals that are considered pests but they’re an indigenous species.
“The damage they do is exaggerated. Attempts to purge the landscape of them in the past have failed and this will fail too.
“It amounts to a bigoted pogrom.”
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The editorial content of this article was first published by The Telegraph on 03 Jan 2015.