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Red Squirrels & Grey Squirrels

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

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

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.

Matthew Chatfield

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

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

  • No – grey squirrels aren’t stronger than reds. In fact they are too fat to swing from the trees like Tarzan. The only reason they multiply is that they are alien. Think old days and Spanish invading South America. Were the Spanish, ill and thin after the sea voyage, stronger or more intelligent than the natives on their own ground? No, they didn’t even need to fight. They just let their viruses and parasites spread and the natives died of the common cold and flu and measles and all that. Aliens don’t have an ecology or a niche, are not wildlife and the natural rules are broken with disastrous consequences. Eventually there will be no more room for the greys in the Uk, in a couple of hundred years, and they will swamp us like the rats of Hamlin

  • The Virtual Ranger

    I think quite a few people have tried eating them. Trouble is, they don’t taste particularly nice. Furthermore, two other fairly palatable species, rabbits and pigeons, are killed in their thousands by hunters all year long, but they show no sign of diminishing in numbers -quite the opposite if anything. No, I don’t think consumption is the answer. Nice thought though!

  • LittleBlue

    Hi Ranger,

    In terms of conservation I often find myself battling with weighing up what is change due to negative, avoidable human impact, and what is inevitable due to evolution… and weighing up whether we should let things change to see what happens…

    I have many a time run circles in my mind trying to help myself get a clear picture of what is okay, what is reasonable, and what is unreasonable conservation effort…

    whether we (humans) we’re here or not, there would be a degree of change. How do we know what change we should allow, and what change we should try to prevent? i.e. if Grey squirrels are a stronger species, why aren’t they let thrive?

    Forgive me – I’m relatively new in this and am trying to work out my thoughts – the only way I see me achieving this is by (almost) playing devils advocate and seeing what other people think.

    On that topic, can you eat grey squirrels? I’ve often wondered about what ‘pests’ or ‘invadors’ we could control through consumption! (I have seen the bit about Garden Snails 🙂 )



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