Ministers defeated in grey squirrel battle

The government plans to scrap a law protecting red squirrels

Ministers have admitted defeat in their battle against grey squirrels, and will scrap a law to protect their red cousins.

Campaigners, and MPs in the North East where the red squirrel can still be found, have expressed their shock at the abandonment of the law requiring people to report grey squirrels on their land so they can be exterminated.

The Solicitor General for England and Wales, Oliver Heald, told an MPs’ committee on deregulation: “it is no longer considered feasible to eradicate grey squirrels, so the requirement to report their presence on one’s land is no longer useful or observed.”

But the Director of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, Janet Wickens, told The Independent she is concerned that ministers seem to have given up on the species.

She said that the organisation understands that the current statute is unenforceable due to the prominence of grey squirrels in many parts of the country, but stressed it is important to remind people grey squirrels are not native to the UK, and are destructive to both forests and businesses.

“Where there are red squirrels we are already culling and controlling grey squirrels to protect the native species. Where there are red squirrels there’s a keen awareness of the need to be alert to the presence of greys," said Ms Wickens.

“What we are saying is in the future things may be different. We were quite surprised to hear that ministers had given up. As science develops there may be ways of using reproduction control to work towards removing grey squirrels," she added.

A squirrel eats berries in a tree in Cologne, on October 24, 2011. A squirrel eats berries in a tree in Cologne, on October 24, 2011.
Unwitting traders imported the grey species from the US to the UK in the 19th century, when the animals were regarded as being fashionable to have on estates.

The red squirrel population has since declined dramatically, and it is estimated that only 30,000 currently remain in the UK.

Ms Wickens explained that part of the problem is squirrel pox - a disease carried by immune greys, but which can kill reds in just under two weeks.

“That virus has the ability to wipe out complete populations of red squirrels and that is the reason we are no longer seeing the native animal. So that is why it’s not OK for grey squirrels to be part of our wildlife. They're vermin."

Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central, told the Telegraph: “I was shocked and surprised by the minister's sense of defeat when it came to halting the onslaught of the grey squirrel and protecting and promoting the red squirrel.

"We have no objection to repealing that particular clause, but would have expected to see greater energy in the protection of red squirrels.

“Red squirrels are flourishing in the North East, and there is an active interest here helping them – we have butchers who trap and sell grey squirrels, but there was no reflection of this from the minister.”

Mr Heald said that the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson reserves the power to order the destruction of grey squirrels in parts of the country where red squirrels are still thriving, and added that research work on a squirrel pox vaccine is continuing, the Telegraph reported.

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: "We have no records of the law allowing people to be prosecuted for failing to report a grey squirrel in their garden ever having been enforced. That is why we are removing it from the statute books. We remain committed to protecting reds and tackling the threats greys pose to them, and to broadleaf woodlands.”

Read more: Squirrel trashes woman's home - leaving her with £7,000 repair bill
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Housekeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the holding company of an expa...

Recruitment Genius: Network Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Setup, configure, troubleshoot,...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future