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‘Pogrom’ is not the word I would use….


…for the UK Grey Squirrel cull, although some others are not reluctant to toss it around. From the Telegraph:

Andrew Tyler, the director of Animal Aid, said: “People have been responsible for wiping out the red squirrel. It’s an excuse to blame the grey squirrel.

“They’re on a list of animals that are considered pests but they’re an indigenous species.

“The damage they do is exaggerated. Attempts to purge the landscape of them in the past have failed and this will fail too.

“It amounts to a bigoted pogrom.”

And according to the Independent:

Under the first national plan for managing the animals’ numbers, Grey Squirrels and England’s Woodland – Policy and Action, landowners who agree to deal with the creatures themselves will be eligible for forestry grants from the Government or European Union.

They will be able to apply for funding of £100 per hectare per year for five years to help them cull the squirrels,using whatever method they prefer.

The money could be used to buy poison or traps, so they can be trapped and shot.

The same problems  have been cited: pox, deforestation, red squirrel numbers. The thing is, based on other reading and certainly confirmed by some animal charities, grey squirrels seem to be a bit of a scapegoat for all three.  And, they also raise this persistent conflict between what is native and what is non-native.

Nocturnal Hijinks 

I read the above mentioned plan, expecting that an evidence-based case would be laid out before the policy and action bit. I’d like to think I am open-minded about these things. I, too, have been at the mercy of the grey squirrel. During the spring before I moved to the UK, I house-sat for a friend of mine. Each night, something went hurtling across the attic floor, sounding like buffalo, which of course it could not be. The hoof beats weren’t even the most annoying thing: quite often there was a rather protracted thumping….

After discussing it with my friend, I called pest control. Indeed, they were not over-sexed buffalo, but squirrels. How did they get into the attic? A happy confluence (for the squirrels) of trees in close proximity to a hole under the eaves of the roof made for the perfect spring site for hijinks of a specific type that necessitated a comfy nursery for little ones.

You readers in the UK may not believe this, but grey squirrels are protected in New England (those bad tempered red ones are not), so none of the kind of things UK residents will be subbed for were possible. The hole was blocked off and any remaining squirrels were trapped and carted away.

Squirrels are noted in the US for chewing through electricity wires, damage like that.

Convenient Scapegoat

But here?  Well, according to the Forestry Commission, from which DEFRA appears to be taking all of its information, the grey squirrels are responsible for the lack of woodland regeneration and quality of timber. The DEFRA plan proceeds from this assertion as a given, without laying out any other evidence base, or indeed establishing how the Forestry Commission came up with this evidence.

Well, two can play at this game.  According to Professor Acornthere are a few facts you should know before signing up for your poison subsidy:

1. Culling can cause more problems than it solves

2. Reduced numbers allows for improved resources and more efficient breeding

3. Neighbouring populations move in to fill the void

4. Increased squirrel mobility could increase spread of SQPV

5. Lactating mothers culled can lead to kittens starving in dreys

And, if that doesn’t convince, consider these points on the subject of the red squirrel:

1. Climate change, and deforestation for agriculture, industry and housing have resulted in loss of habitat suitable for Red Squirrels

2. Changes in tree species planted in recent years have favoured greys, with significant red squirrel habitat disappearing

3. Grey Squirrels don’t chase Red Squirrels away. It is simply a gradual ecological replacement due to Greys being more adaptable. Plenty of evidence shows the two species living together for significant periods.

4. In addition, humans have persecuted Red Squirrels as pests for many years, driving them to near extinction

5. Red Squirrels, like Grey Squirrels before, have been affected by Parapoxvirus. Grey Squirrels who survived showed immunity, and the same immunity is now being seen in some Red Squirrels

6. Habitat pressures are making life hard for Red Squirrels, so disease, like SQPV, is harder for them to fight. They are certainly not fat and healthy.

The website also offers alternative points of view on deforestation.  Professor Acorn even has a Facebook campaign.  I do admit that I have not been able to confirm who or what is the source of this website, although it is difficult to think what a conflict of interest in favor of a grey squirrel would look like. Based on what I see in my own little biosphere, though, I am at least inclined to entertain these points while still searching for some authoritative confirmation. Regarding one other argument against the grey squirrel, song bird population, my own biosphere would indicate that there is no detrimental effects–maybe because they are competing with magpies, jays, raptors, etc!  You can see from my previous posts that the summer is filled with babies, and especially song bird bablies.

 Not the Robins!

One of the things most of us know, maybe without even knowing that we know, is that you shouldn’t disturbs nests. Indeed, the government had proscribed disturbing nest sites, especially for certain species. It seems though that the government is being advised that these restriction may not be required, and in some instances may compromise health and safety.

The Petition Site  quotes from a Guardian article:

According to the Guardian, “it appears that the country’s 6.7m pairs of robins are no longer the feathered friend of yesteryear. A consultation by Natural England, the body that advises the government on the natural environment, has made the case for allowing people to destroy the birds’ nests and remove their eggs, amid growing concerns that they threaten health and safety. Natural England is also looking at similar measures to permit “taking, damaging and destroying of nests and eggs” for pied wagtails and starlings.”

Now as with the example of attempting to cohabit with grey squirrels, I also had a somewhat negative experience when forced to cohabit with a starling chick.  But, with a few adjustments, we were able to co-exist without too much damage to roof and attic until the little chick fledged.  It would seem to me that it would be better to keep the proscription in place, but allowing for exceptions. However, as with the above, I would like to know a little more about Natural England’s argument.


I promise, I swear, next time bees, rats, frogs etc.

And, a warning:  Winterwatch starts next week….



Grey Squirrel photo taken by Demon Traitor in Milton County Park, Cambridgeshire in November 2006. It is copied from Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license. See http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grey_squirrel.jpg



11 thoughts on “‘Pogrom’ is not the word I would use….

  1. I’ve thought about this post all day. I don’t really know what to say, except I wish we’d leave things alone. I keep thinking about the ancillary issues that are will arise–those that you mentioned, and others. For example, the raptors poisoned because they consumed a poisoned squirrel. Other rats and mice who will not be eaten because the population of raptors declines. And so it goes.

    Posted by Tina | January 19, 2015, 7:22 am
  2. People are always quick to blame one species for the loss of another, but slow to blame humans. Culling grey squirrels is an easier option than giving the Reds better habitat. Reminds me of the badgers/cows debate.

    Posted by Emily Scott | January 19, 2015, 8:22 am
  3. This certainly made me think! As you say, where is the evidence base for any of the actions. As Emily said the squirrel cull has strong echos of the badger cull and its lack of of sound science.

    Why would robins threaten health and safety? I cant find any info on that.

    Why are our “politicians” so unimpressive?

    Posted by philipstrange | January 19, 2015, 4:10 pm
  4. Poor squirrels. They’re the rodents people love to hate. Next time bees, please!

    Posted by Bluebird Annie | January 20, 2015, 2:19 am
    • I thought more like the rodents people love to love, as people don’t usually have time for rodents on the whole… Bee post is in the pipeline but too many things keep happening, like the golden eagle in our backyard on Monday!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | January 20, 2015, 2:17 pm
    • Interesting, although he contradicts himself somewhat: while appearing to hove entirely to the popular perception of the damage grey squirrels do, he then contends that they are able to dominate because they are able to exploit already depleted ecosystems. Huh? He talks about entrenched government views when he entirely buys into a view (the demonization of grey squirrels) that supports his own.
      The reason pine martens work is because they are a species important to the ecosystem -a predator species. One which has been virtually eradicated. As were red squirrels, and not by greys. It should not be a loathe grey/love red divide. Each creature has its inherent value, and can co-exist with proper management-active and passive. And that goes as well for the apex of all apex predators that is largely responsible for these imbalances.
      Sorry, I am a very critical reader. I hope this doesn’t discourage you from pointing other interesting articles out to me!

      By the by, what is wrong with children learning trapping and shooting? (Please know this comes from someone who could never hunt for sport). Are you still talking to me?

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | February 1, 2015, 11:08 am

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