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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent