The harm done by grey squirrels in Britain

A Website, www.deathtogreysquirrels.com *, has recently brought about a great deal of controversy by encouraging the killing of grey squirrels (a perfectly legal act). This stance was taken by the Website creator as a last resort after months of failed attepts at preventing them from eating birds eggs, destroying bird feeders, eating food left out for birds, rooting up bulbs, and causing damage to his house.

Many people were outraged at the promotion of ‘Death to grey squirrels’, claiming that it was unnecessary to kill any animal “just because it annoys people”, and that they should be “left alone to let nature take its course”.

This is an interesting argument: if nature had indeed taken its course the grey squirrels wouldn’t be here. Grey squirrels are not native to Britain but were introduced by humans. As so many people find grey squirrels fun to watch they are encouraged to thrive, and their existance has caused a great deal of harm to British wildlife.

The extent of damage that can be caused by an alien species is seen on the Scottish island of Uist: here, hedgehogs were introduced by an individual who wanted to control garden slugs. This act subsequently caused a dramatic decline in wading birds as the hedgehogs ate their eggs. Due to their small numbers, and the close proximity of their native habitat, catching the hedgehogs on this island and relocating them is an option; however, the same cannot be applied to the far greater grey squirrel populations: the expense of catching and transporting them all back to North America would be too much to consider.

The majority of people are understandably ignorant of the severe problems caused by grey squirrels in Britain. It goes extensively beyond the mere annoyance of one or two citizens yet gets little consideration.

Grey squirrels are voracious, depriving much of Britains native wildlife (including the doormouse) of food. They have decimated the population of our native red squirrels: being dominant over the reds, depriving them of food and habitation, and also carrying the Parapox virus — which doesn’t harm the greys themselves but is deadly to reds.

Unlike red squirrels, greys are known to damage trees by stripping bark from them, causing severe damage to forests and woodland, and possibly leading to the loss of some species; which in turn results in loss of habitat to Britain’s wildlife, and financial loss to timber merchants.

In June 2005, the Forestry Commission proposed to regenerate Englands ancient woodland. Due to grey squirrels this could result in a waste of taxpayers money, as money spent on trees could be litterally eaten up by grey squirrels.

Grey squirrels eat birds eggs and nestlings, and have been pinpointed as the main reason of decline in certain species — as reported by the RSPB. The breeding success of British songbirds could be dramatically affected by grey squirrels — as reported by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

More information can be found at the European Squirrel Initiative Website.

If anybody does not wish for grey squirrels to be killed they should voice their complaint to the government, suggesting that something should be done to control them. If this is taken into account there should be no need for the general public to kill them. If not, our killing of one species (the grey squirrel) could save many others, and may prevent the extinction of some.

*The person behind www.deathtogreysquirrels.com removed the Website not long after it had gone up. According to the article at thisislocallondon.co.uk, this was due to “pressure from his neighbours”.

The article contains a quote from a spokesman for the site, which reads, “an agreement has been brokered between the humans and Central Squirrel Command and a truce is now declared. The website is no more.”

It continues, in what is evidently underlying sarcasm, “In return, the squirrels have agreed not to kill baby birds, raid bird tables or dig up spring bulbs.”

I’m sure that there is no truce, as squirrels don’t really get into peace talks; also, I very much doubt that the neighbors who forced the removal of the site were interested in helping the individual control the pests, or to compensate him for the damage they had done.