Category Archives: Red Squirrels & Grey Squirrels

Twirl-a-squirrel

Of little interest to The Ranger, safe on his Island fastness with no grey squirrels (and plenty of red ones), this American invention will no doubt be much in demand when it is introduced in the UK.

The manufacturer’s website claims:

Hilariously funny! Amazingly effective! Squirrel’s weight on feeder activates a motor which gently twirls him off!

Needless to say, the weight of the little birdies does not have the same effect. And it is rather funny. The video illustrates it very well – with the added “attraction” of some cod Beach Boys harmonies. And if you want to buy one, don’t ask The Ranger. He doesn’t have any. Ask the makers.

(First published 2007, updated 2014 with corrected links)

Squirrels on crack – the Ranger’s special investigation.

This one you must have seen. In 2005, according to the Currant Bun, Brixton grey squirrels were becoming addicted to crack cocaine. The story went global, being picked up by the Guardian, countless blogs, and even Fox News. Almost all, including most of the US sources, reported something along these lines:

Crack squirrels are a recognised phenomenon in the US. They are known to live in parks frequented by addicts in New York and Washington DC.

A crazed squirrel (c) scary squirrel world

Continue reading

Northern tufty-botherers in scientific dust-up

Red squirrels, the little furry darlings – they need our help! Yes, if about fifty million column-inches are to be believed then we can all join in to help fight the introduction of grey squirrels and the decline of the native red. It’s suggested that by keeping the grey terror at bay in the north of England maybe we English can keep a population of our red friends. A great deal of money and effort has been spent on trying to do just that. At the same time money for other species conservation efforts has come under increasing pressure, so perhaps it’s not a bad thing that Natural England have published a report from some heavyweight scientists to see if the resources expended on red squirrel conservation in northern England have been well-used. The results make uncomfortable reading.

Red squirrel roadsign

Whilst it’s not all bad news, it seems that not everything is going very well – and the problem isn’t just the grey squirrels but also the people. The report has some rather blunt suggestions, and some people are not going to like it. Continue reading

Invisible squirrels

Once more the allegedly deadly grey squirrel rears its cute little head in the media, with a rather desperate article in the Telegraph trying to make an old story sound fresh:

Teams in Britain and America are working against the clock to develop a method of rendering the pests infertile using treated bait… The contraceptive would work by attacking the immune system of the squirrel, suppressing its fertility. Scientists are desperate to find ways of tackling the grey squirrel threat before it causes more damage to the red population…

A crazed squirrel
The unstoppable advance of the crazed grey invaders…?

It’s an interesting idea but very far from a new one. It’s also not got much prospect of any immediate success. In 1998 Hansard reported:

Lord Inglewood referred to the Forestry Commission investigating the potential of immuno-sterilization of grey squirrels… But it may be a long-term solution. Success is far from guaranteed at this stage.

It seems that little has changed in ten years. Still, at least the Telegraph is aware of the distribution of red squirrels, reporting accurately enough that they “are now only found in the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island, western Wales, northern England and parts of Scotland“. The Guardian, by contrast, in its charmingly-illustrated but badly researched photo essay on red squirrels manages to suggest that “they live mainly in pine forests in Scotland, but can be spotted in the North of Enlgand(sic), west Wales and on Brownsea Island.” So none on the Isle of Wight then? Once more the only stable and sustainable population of reds in the UK is overlooked. Grrr!

Read my lips: there is a healthy and stable population of red squirrels in England

How many times do we have to spell it out? Once more this month media stories abound of the imminent demise of the red squirrel in England. Thisissouthwales.co.uk squeals:

They’ve been doing well in Anglesey. But elsewhere red squirrels are having a rather tough time. According to new research, we will have lost them for good in just 10 years if we don’t do something now.

A crazed squirrel
The unstoppable advance of the crazed grey invaders…?

The Times similarly pronounces:

…squirrel pox virus is so deadly to red squirrels that they are likely to die out in England within a decade unless the spread can be halted.

Please, give a it a rest with the doom and gloom – it’s not all bad news. The Isle of Wight, a part of England, has a healthy population of red squirrels. No projections show that population being compromised in the near future. The risk is always there, of course, but we are vigilant. The original research which sparked these stories, a modelling study led by Peter Lurz of the University of Newcastle, did not claim that red squirrels would be lost from England in ten years. Lurz and his collaborators are well aware of the Island squirrels. However, somewhere along the line, in the search for a more scary headline, the Isle of Wight has somehow been airbrushed from the picture that the majority of people get to see. Explain the necessity to take appropriate precautions to conserve mainland squirrels, by all means. But don’t overexaggerate the problem and particularly don’t consign the Island population to oblivion with sloppy editing.

“Save money, not red squirrels”: BBC Wildlife Mag

It’s not often that The Rangers gets to say ‘I told you so’. But you can be sure that when those opportunities come along, he’ll not be too reluctant to do it. Back in November 2005 one of the very first posts on this blog analysed the massive spend on red squirrel conservation in mainland England, and contrasted it unfavourably with the amounts spent on the thriving population on the Isle of Wight.

Red squirrel roadsign

Now it seems that BBC Wildlife magazine has woken up to this debate – in the August 2006 issue Prof Stephen Harris from the University of Bristol writes an article which is bound to court controversy, in which he says:

“Conserving rare or vulnerable species on islands is not a new concept… [The UK] is not short of large, accessible islands where it would be simpler and cheaper to conserve red squirrels. It would be more effective in the long term to establish these as red squirrel reserves.”

BBC News goes even further and actually mentions the Isle of Wight – a welcome change, as often media coverage suggests that the only chance for Tufty is Formby or the wilds of Northumberland or whatever. It’s more dramatic that way, and conveniently ignores the large and stable population on the Isle of Wight. It’s also about spending money and doing something – people hate to just stand by and do nothing as those pesky grey squirrels advance. But advance they will. News reports of the latest hi-tech developments in red squirrel preservation make good headlines, but what then? Most of the expensive projects and proposals will no doubt have short-term benefits, but what of the longer term? A natural population of reds, given suitable habitat, needs nothing in the way of extra food, innoculations, breeding programmes, road crossings, viewing areas, exclusion zones or whatever. All they need is a suitable supply of habitat and some monitoring… and no greys. The Ranger is glad that this idea is being discussed. It’s a shame that we might have to choose between big, impressive but ultimately ineffectual schemes that gain plenty of media coverage and public support, and more or less unknown ones which actually benefit rare species. It would be great to take the beneficial elements from both these scenarios, because even the most successful conservation scheme on the ground is ultimately likely to fail if the public do not understand or want it.

Red squirrels in Berkshire

The Ranger was recently visiting a notable tourist attraction in Berkshire and admiring the large numbers of veteran trees within it. It’s remarkable how many large and very ancient trees seem to have been preserved there despite the very intensive visitor pressure. Those actually in visitor areas were obviously strictly treated for health and safety reasons, but plenty of fallen wood was left lying about and many other trees were visible off the beaten track even though visitors were kept well away – allowing most of the dead and dying branches to remain unlopped. However the most remarkable thing that caught the Ranger’s eye was the proof that red squirrels do still have a southern stronghold outside of the Isle of Wight:

Red squirrel in Berkshire. No, not really. It's a joke, see? He went to Legoland!