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Invisible squirrels

Matthew Chatfield

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!

Matthew Chatfield

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

3 thoughts on “Invisible squirrels

  • tim relf

    Thought you might find this photo amusing – a novel way of dealing with grey squirrels, wouldn’t you say. Electrocute the hell out of them!

  • I will apologize for whichever visitor from North America thought it would be wise to introduce the Grey Squirrel into Great Britain. Sorry for that. I guess having every bird mentioned in Shakespeare as foreign pests in North America is sufficient payback for that.

    Though we have millions of grey squirrels in the backyard frolicking around and generally making fools of themselves, I try to make sure none of them accidentally get into out luggage when we travel to the U.K.

    On a more serious note, how different are grey squirrels from red squirrels that scientists are sure they can target one and not the other with these contraceptives. After all, the squirrel pox doesn’t seem to be so selective. I know that science will solve all of our problems some day, but I hope the testing is extensive for this “solution” to the grey squirrel problem.


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