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Red Squirrels & Grey Squirrels

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

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

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. 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.

Matthew Chatfield

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

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

  • I can understand the Isle of Wight feeling upset that it and its squirrels are overlooked. But lets not get into name-calling and insults over a small mistake. Red squirrels will definitely be extinct in MAINLAND England unless the authorities come to their senses and do something about the genocide resulting from squirrel pox carried by the alien grey squirrel.

    The Ranger responds: see my comment above.

  • Despite the negative headlines, it is possible to safeguard existing red squirrel populations with a little effort, community support and minimal spin. The success of the Anglesey project is a simple example.

  • Julian Rollins

    Take your point Ranger about accuracy of media coverage of the red v grey story. I suspect the Welsh paper was interested in Anglsey but not IoW because it (rightly) takes a Cymru-centric view of the story. The Times was probably just spin up the story to support a scary heading.
    That aside though, what’s the answer? Ranald is right that something needs to be done about the mainland situation. The FC says it is again actively working on an immuno-contraceptive for greys, but it’s going to take at least 10 years to get right. Will that be too late?

  • The Virtual Ranger

    I’m not for one moment suggesting that anyone should sit back and not worry – quite the contrary. But I don’t agree with you that the end does justify the means. Telling people that squirrels will die out in England is not true. Telling fibs isn’t right and ultimately will not achive what we want. Nor is it necessary. See, by comparison, how The Guardian handles the same story. Entirely accurate, and to my eyes just as hard-hitting. Accuracy, and honesty. That’s all I’m asking for.

  • Ranald Strachan

    I am sure that your localised ‘island’ population of reds are doing well, and that is superb news. However this is not the case elsewhere. I accept that using only negative spin on the red squirrel population decline issue is a tool which many red squirrel conservationists would rather not have to use, however the large proportion of the general public are incredibly apathetic, and if a ‘end is nigh’ message gets them to sit up and listen, then it is justified. It really is a means to an end here.
    Besides do red squirrels really get so much coverage in England that you get ‘fed up’ with reading about there demise!
    My feeling is any news is useful news as long as it keeps the reds on the agenda.
    Please understand that red squirrel conservation in ‘interface’ areas is a different game to an island population, and that believe it or not, red squirrels are disappearing!
    I am writing from Scotland where we have 75% of the UK population, and could easily advise sitting back and not worrying because we have a strong and stable population of red squirrels, but that has been done for some time now…
    Please remain vigilant,bear in mind one poxvirus outbreak and your ‘stable’ population crashes, then how would you put it to your local press officer?
    By the way I am on your side, lets not start firing at our own ranks!


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