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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 www.deathtogreysquirrels.com, 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
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 www.deathtogreysquirrels.com
– 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