Grey squirrels to be culled to protect native red species

A A A

Naturalists are to set up a network of heavily protected sanctuaries to save Britain's last red squirrels from extinction at the hands of their larger cousins - the grey squirrel.

Naturalists are to set up a network of heavily protected sanctuaries to save Britain's last red squirrels from extinction at the hands of their larger cousins - the grey squirrel.

The measures will include shooting and poisoning thousands of grey squirrels close to the 20 new reserves and are a last-ditch attempt to arrest the plummeting red squirrel population.

Since their introduction from North America in the late 1800s, grey squirrels have colonised most of England, Wales and central Scotland, damaging the forests needed by reds and out-competing them for food.

The Government-backed initiative follows warnings earlier this month that the last remaining Cumbrian red squirrels are close to dying out. They are considered Britain's oldest "pure breed", but only 1,000 Cumbrian reds are thought to survive.

Since the 1940s, red squirrels have become increasingly rare across England and now number about 160,000, compared to 2.4 million greys. Now officially one of Britain's most threatened mammals, reds are confined to a few conifer forests and woods in Northumberland, Cumbria, and Lancashire, and several islands off the south coast.

Now, the UK Red Squirrel Group, an official committee of conservation experts, has decided to designate 20 forests and woods in northern England as dedicated refuges for red squirrels, including the vast Kielder forest area just south of the Scottish border.

The committee is to ask the Heritage Lottery Fund to pay for the new survival plan - arguing that red squirrels are an essential part of the UK's cultural history.

The action plan will involve banning the planting of broad-leaved trees loved by greys and protecting the conifers loved by reds. Each refuge will be surrounded by a buffer zone, where grey squirrels will be trapped and poisoned to prevent their spread.

The committee is also drafting plans to protect red squirrels on the Isle of Wight and three islands in Poole Harbour in Dorset - the last grey squirrel-free areas of southern England. Local councils will be asked to shoot any grey squirrel which is spotted on sight.

The new initiative, which is being co-ordinated by the Forestry Commission and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, follows mounting pressure for a more aggressive policy towards grey squirrels.

The British Trust for Ornithology believes that grey squirrels are partly to blame for a collapse in woodland birds, such as finches, tawny owls and the nuthatch, because they eat their eggs and young, damage young trees and take up valuable food supplies.

Country sports enthusiasts have appealed for local grey squirrel culls by shooters, and for landowners to put out bait dosed with the lethal anti-coagulant drug Warfarin. Last month's edition of Country Illustrated magazine claimed the grey's spread is one of rural Britain's "single greatest catastrophes".

The article concludes: "Let us all go to war and kill some grey squirrels."

Demands for a national strategy have also come from the European Squirrel Initiative - an umbrella group of landowners and conservationists - which wants ministers to fund research into ways of chemically sterilising greys.

However, the Forestry Commission believes it is too late to eradicate Britain's greys, and argues that refuges for reds are more realistic and cost-effective. Ministers also argue that grey squirrels are very popular in many British cities and that a national cull would be politically unacceptable.

Suggested Topics
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links