Culling grey squirrels fails to save the red, say conservationists

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The Independent Online

Culling grey squirrels is not the best way to save the threatened native red population and could actually hamper conservation efforts, says a new report.

The Scottish research, which was commissioned by the animal welfare group, Advocates for Animals, also claimed that "millions" of pounds were being wasted on so-called conservation schemes to save red squirrels. It concluded that culling greys could even work against the effort to conserve red squirrel numbers.

In Scotland, grey squirrels are being culled by the Forestry Commission Scotland, Aberdeen City Council and Dundee City Council. The Conservative MSP, Murdo Fraser, recently called for a bounty to be placed on them. The researchers, led by Professor Stephen Harris from Bristol University, claimed "the millions spent on saving the red squirrel and eradicating its nemesis, the grey, are a waste of money".

The report said previous attempts to control the number of greys had not stopped or slowed their spread, and that culling could actually lead to increased localised density, greater forest damage and more disease.

Ross Minett, director of Advocates for Animals, said the research "corrects the belief that killing grey squirrels is a viable tactic to save the remaining red squirrel populations.

"Culling grey squirrels will not save the reds and so conservationists working to save the red squirrel need to consider alternative approaches," he said.

Professor Harris, co-author of the report, added: "I am not against trying to protect red squirrels, but if red squirrel conservation depends on killing grey squirrels, this is an extremely expensive, commitment. Since all the past evidence suggests that this will not work, why waste more resources? And is it justifiable to enter on a slaughter policy that has no prognosis of success? There are alternative, and possibly better approaches."

In another article, written for BBC Wildlife magazine he added that although the animals were under threat from their larger grey cousins in the UK, red squirrels were very common in other parts of the world.

"While their decline on mainland Britain has been very sad, as a global conservation issue it hardly registers," he said.