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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test