The grey Squirrel
- Sciurus carolinensis, common name eastern gray squirrel or grey squirrel depending on region, is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus. It is native to eastern North America, where it is the most prodigious and ecologically essential natural forest regenerator. The eastern grey squirrel in Europe is regarded as an invasive species. (Wikipedia 2018)
The grey squirrel was introduced to the UK in the 19th century. Since its introduction it has spread across the UK and is universally regarded as the cause of the decline of the native Red Squirrel;-
The Red Squirrel
- The red squirrel or Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a species of tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus common throughout Eurasia. The red squirrel is an arboreal, omnivorous rodent.
- In Great Britain, Italy and Ireland, numbers have decreased drastically in recent years. This decline is associated with the introduction by humans of the
- eastern grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) from North America and habitat loss. Due to this, without conservation the species could be extirpated from Britain by 2030. (Wikipedia 2018)
The Red squirrel is under threat and classified as “near threatened” in the England, Wales and Ireland. It is common locally to small pockets in Scotland. As briefly mentioned above the largest factor to its decline is the introduction of the Grey in the 19th century.
The main reasons the grey squirrel is a threat are;-
- Grey squirrels are more likely to eat green acorns, this puts pressure on the food source of the Red. This is because the Red cannot digest mature acorns.
- Greys carry a disease called squirrel pox, this can kill greys also but s more likely to cause illness rather than death. This disease is largely deadly to the Red squirrel.
- Further to this it is observed when Red squirrels are put under pressure because of the above reasons they fail to breed further contributing to the decline.
Grey squirrels are a pest species
Further to the recorded damage to other native species, the grey is a pest within the forest.
The grey squirrel will strip bark from growing trees, it is not possible for the Grey to strip the bark of older trees (40yrs+) as it is too thick, it is also unlikely they will strip the bark of younger trees as it will not support their weight.
Species of tree susceptible to bark stripping include the British oak, another native species seen to be in decline. This is just another example of the knock on effect of an invasive species.
Should we do something?
It could be argued that nature is about survival of the fittest. The grey based on current estimates would cause the decline and extinction in the UK of the Red by 2030 based on report’s by authors, Dawn Burnham and David MacDonald.
However the Grey was introduced as nothing more than a curiosity. So it begs the question, as “man”, should we rectify the mistake made by our recent ancestors. It is my opinion that the answer is yes. I am all for working with nature, however the equilibrium has been broken in this instance and I believe as people we should hold ourselves to a higher standard.
What can we do about it?
There are various methods being trialled across the UK, trapping, shooting and even contraceptive pills.
Trapping – It must be pointed out that trapping essentially means death for the grey. It is simply not possible to re release them as well as it being illegal, this would only add back to the problem and it is not really financially viable to transport them back to North America.
Shooting – This tends to be the most viable option, to some it seems cruel but it is a harsh reality of the situation we are in. If you agree that we need to save the Red it is at the expense of the grey in the UK.
Contraceptives – Yes, this is an option and a viable “pill” is being developed and sponsored by the UK government. The Royal Forestry Society has more information here. But essentially it would allow the population to die out in the UK with little intervention.
How can I help?
Most people can play a useful part in the process. It is widely accepted that the response needs to be coordinated. I recently met a group of people trying to do this, their group name gave me the title for this blog post. The group is looking for Professional’s in different areas Landowners, Farmers, Gamekeepers, Pest control, Hunters, Wildlife experts, Councils and Public who want to help.
The group has a Facebook page, and a private group for those who control the numbers, the group is further broken down into map reference areas where groups locally record numbers to be added to the national tally. Please like their page below.