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Red Squirrels & Grey Squirrels

Death to Grey Squirrels…? Website down permanently

Matthew Chatfield
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Update 16 January 2006: it seems that the website is gone for ever, after its owner made some sort of truce with the squirrels. How queer! Original article begins: They’re cuddly! They’re cute! They see off red squirrels in droves and eat all your nuts. And apparently, all your crocus bulbs. One enterprising Londoner has had enough of the ravages of the grey squirrel so has established, where keen squirrel-nobblers can swap tales of serial squirrelicide and back-garden buckshot mayhem. What’s more, there’s plenty of advice and ideas on offer on how to see off the little pests, with little consideration for their welfare – indeed, quite the contrary.


Now, the Ranger sees some positive sides to this campaign. Certainly getting rid of grey squirrels is a good idea, because of their effect on the red squirrel and on woodland in general. It’s also quite refreshing to see someone willing to be frank about what they want to achieve, and how, without being hamstrung by the meeting the concerns of animal welfare. Indeed, the webmaster actually says: We bet you’ll soon meet plenty of old ladies who love their squirrels. Don’t let them stand in your way! Very robust. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the author remains anonymous. But (and you could feel that ‘but’ coming, couldn’t you) the Ranger also asserts that there are some problems with this entertaining approach to species conservation. The most significant one is that it will be utterly ineffectual, except, perhaps in allowing the participants to express their ire against the grey invader. A 2003 study reviewing statistics over about 10 years across the UK by the European Squirrel Initiative says:

In none of the estates illustrated here or in many others does any form of squirrel control provide an acceptable reduction in damage either because the control proves too costly or it is unsuccessful… At no time or place is it possible to eradicate the grey squirrel completely with the present mechanisms for control due to the persistent endemic spread and replacement of the animal.

Grey squirrel populations are so robust that even the most vigorous culls are unlikely to have anything more than a very local effect, and even then, only temporarily – unless a really big population can be wiped out over a significant range, and there’s no known way to do that at present. In case you’re really on the ball, this objection also applies to some extent to the red squirrel reserves maintained in the North by culling greys. A second objection goes to the very essence of the idea. It’s time to remember those old ladies mentioned above. Are they wrong to cherish the little grey fellows? Well, yes they are, but it’s not as simple as that. There’s no doubt the the grey squirrel in a suburban garden can be a charming creature which gives many people pleasure, and an accessible interaction with the natural world. Never mind that it’s not natural. That dosn’t matter in this context. From this care for squirrels and similarly birds, many go on to support charities such as the Wildlife Trusts or, particularly, the RSPB. Some even become involved in the running of such bodies. Anyone who has worked for a wildlife trust will know the truth of this – the lover of the cuddly mammal or chirpy garden bird is an overwhelmingly powerful lobby. And on the backs of these ecological titans rides the political will and financial means for much good work to be done.

On the Isle of Wight in 2004 somebody was convicted and fined after threatening to release grey squirrels on the grey-free Island. The circumstances of that case were bizarre but there are certainly those who are so keen on the greys that they will quite deliberately introduce them. Whilst this sort of enthusiasm exists, any eradication programme can only ever be a precarious one. So does the Ranger suggest that the grey squirrel be conserved for fear of having to lay off National Trust wardens? Far from it. I’m still firmly of the view that the grey should go. However, that simply cannot be done at present. If the means ever does become available, it should be a very carefully implemented project, over the entire country, and one which involves people as much as pest control. This will take decades. To eradicate the greys in part, only to let them return later, would be useless. To wipe out the invader without any provision for the return of the shyer red squirrel would be equally counter-productive – for who would support a campaign to replace their furry grey friends with nothing? To alienate those who love squirrels would be a spectacular own goal, and would ultimately be self defeating. Conservation is not just about species – or rather, it is, but only if we allow ourselves to be one of those species. We are a part of nature and our own interactions with it are ignored at our peril. This simple debate about eliminating a perceived invader is far more complex than it appears to in the waggish – to whom the Ranger wishes the very best of British. The human involvement in the grey is complex, and only in a programme in which this too is addressed will there ever be a real chance to eradicate the grey squirrel. See also

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

11 thoughts on “Death to Grey Squirrels…? Website down permanently

  • systemaddict

    American Journalist – I’m hostile to the grey squirrel because they are not a native British animal and have no natural predators here, the fact that they originally came from the US specifically isn’t relevant. I’ve shot 26 of them since March, I wouldn’t shoot them in the eastern US because they are part of that area’s ecology.

  • Grey free island refuges offer one viable and longterm solution.

  • Adam Whyte

    just to say that recently whilst out shooting with the new 12 bore felix askesta shotgun I got for x-mas I shot my first Grey Squirrel(b*******s) and the funny thing was it had been shot up the a***


  • The Virtual Ranger

    Hi ‘you yank’! No, it makes no difference. I don’t think our dislike for grey squirrels is anything to do with their origin, in fact I imagine that the majority of people do not know that the grey squirrel originates in America at all, or even that they are not indigenous. We have plenty of other imports that many will assume are native – sycamores, rabbits, muntjac, slipper limpets… no doubt it’s the same over your way.

  • american journalist

    i am an american journalist and i have a question. would you all like greys more if they hadn’t come from us yanks? what if the red were the import and the greys were native to britain? would that change things….?

  • garden and bird and animal lover (Kensington)

    it is crazy that people are stupid enough to feed grey squirrrels…If they have rats running around their gardens would they feed those as well.
    Guess the answer is yes. I watched in horror as 2 of them chased a blackbird out of it’s nest which they then wrecked and attacked the female bird ripping it’s head off. The noise that then insued all afternoon with the male screeching was really harrowing.
    I am absolutely fed up with having to put up with these RODENTS taking over the garden. The cats are too frightened to go outside. When I tried to ‘shoo’ away a squirrel it flew at me and hung off the top of my jeans gripping my leg in the process.
    it wouldn’t be allowed to happen in any other country…toooo many loonies here who don’t know what they are talking about. About ime they woke up and started to put as much energy into looking out for the people in this country who could do with a little care.

  • kev from west midlands

    i’m glad i’ve got some other like minded people out there. the greys ripped open a nest box i put up for blue tits and took the young.I’ve managed to shoot about 8 tree rats since but they have returned, so i feel it is an on going battle.

  • paul robinson

    i was asked by a farmer yesterday to keep an eye out for squirrels,as they have been eating all the bird food.ten minutes later i shot four of the flying rats,and enjoyed every second as i rid the land of these flea bitten pests,long live red squirrel and fine those that feed greys

  • The Virtual Ranger

    Did you read the whole article, Smith? I kinda agree with you. Unless it can be done properly, it shouldn’t be done at all – and those who love the grey squirrels must be in support or it won’t work.

    And BTW, rambling is good – we like to ramble too, so carry on!

  • Hi
    Shame on you Ranger,
    What would you rather have some wild critters to watch or nothing at all? bare trees bare woods
    For years and years and years well maybe not that long ago there was a complete dearth of creatures around here except our local well fed bird population but couple of years ago we noticed a lonely fox wending its way around the district,now we have a couple great!! last year we had a visit from the dreaded grey squirrel now we have two visiting our garden (YES WE ENCOURAGE THEM) I personally don’t give a toot about the so called damage they do (REDS would no doubt do just the same if their numbers increased)I and my family would much rather see wild animals free to roam where we can see them rather than have to visit a zoo, or not see them at all. Same goes for rabbits they should have been farmed properly OK for cat food etc at a pinch rather than given myxamatosis? horrible disease (Carried by fleas I believe could yet bite back like the plague).
    Live and let live don’t join the crowd that thinks humans are the only species deserving this planet.Damn lot of people in the third world would probably like a bit of rabbit or squirrel soup

    Upps sorry turned into bit of a ramble

  • Gareth Young

    It’s the pox that gets the reds, I saw plenty of evidence of it when I worked for DEFRA up in Scotland. Plans were afoot then to introduce an Eastern European red – immune to the pox – into the remaining Scottish population in the hope that the two pops would breed and the Easterners would confer their pox-resistance to the Scottish population.

    I’m generally against these biowarfare solutions but this idea did seem like it had some merit as a last resort. Dunno what became of it.


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