2008-02-18 09:29:42 UTC
Captured squirrels live to nibble again
For decades the traditional British response to finding a trapped grey
squirrel was to bludgeon it to death with a spade. Now a wave of
sentimentality has led to a change in the law, granting Sciurus
carolinensis a reprieve.
Until last year anyone catching a grey squirrel was required by law to
kill it to help to preserve the native red species. The legislation
has now been reformed, allowing people to release the animals into the
wild but only if they apply for and are granted a licence to do so.
The change, which permits up to 450 grey squirrels to be released this
year, has provoked outrage from some wildlife activists. They fear
that it will spell disaster for the native red squirrel, which has
suffered a catastrophic decline since the American grey was introduced
in the 19th century.
Natural England, the Governments advisory body on nature, said that
the policy change came about in response to public sentiment. For
some people, these species have become a part of our wildlife and give
a great deal of pleasure, a spokeswoman said.
The new policy caused consternation in the House of Lords, where a
debate last month called into question the wisdom of treating grey
squirrels humanely. England has about two million grey squirrels and
the figures given show that 13,337 were exterminated in Northumberland
alone since January last year.
Baroness Trumpington, a former Tory Agriculture Minister, asked why
licences were issued at all. If you give licences for six squirrels,
presuming that three are male and three are female, in no time at all
you will have 60 squirrels. After that, my mind boggles, she said.
Baroness Butler-Sloss, until recently the most senior female judge in
England and Wales, also advocated extermination.
Lord Rooker, Minister for Animal Health, declared that only six
squirrels had been released under licence, but anecdotal evidence
suggests that more are being freed.
Testimonials for The Trap Man, a website set up by a manufacturer of
humane animal traps, suggest that illegal grey squirrel releasing may
be rife. One correspondent said that he released four squirrels into
nearby woodland. PH wrote: I know it is illegal, but we will not
kill animals hence the trap.
The manufacturer suggests that the best bait is peanut butter, nutty
chocolate spread or dry cat food.
The RSPCA, which has a licence for each of its regional
superintendents, now has a policy to release uninjured trapped grey
squirrels back into the wild.
Adam Grogan, of the RSPCA wildlife department, gave an example of a
squirrel that had become trapped in a bird feeder after it became too
fat to get out the way it had come in. The animal, which was released
back into the garden where it was found, in Christchurch, Dorset,
would previously have been exterminated. Mr Grogan said: It was
always difficult for us. We would have to euthanase it. People didnt
understand why we had to do it.
Nature England denied that licences to release grey squirrels would
cause the country to be overrun. The number of animals covered by
licences is clearly insignificant compared with the size and fecundity
of the wild population, a spokeswoman said.
Englands squirrels will produce 4.5 million offspring this year, but
only a quarter survive their first winter. A further 3,000 mature
squirrels die each day.
Grey squirrels can also expect no mercy from most gardeners. SG, a
contributor to The Trap Man website, described his technique for
dispatching captured grey squirrels: Place jute bag round end of cage
. . . pull door up and open squirrel rushes into bag. Grabbed end of
bag to assure its closure and trapped vermin. Try to hold it down and
bang away with hammer.
Greys and reds
Population 2 million
Size 25cm long, with a 20cm tail
History The first verifiable introduction to the wild in Britain was
in 1876, when T. V. Brocklehurst released a breeding pair to Henbury
Park near Macclesfield in Cheshire Releasing grey squirrels became
fashionable in the early 20th century
Disease Carries the squirrel parapox virus, but is resistant to it
Mating habits Mates once or twice a year, producing between one and
Population 120,000 (90,000 of which are in Scotland)
Size 22cm long, with a 18cm tail
History Native to Britain for 10,000 years. Remains have been found in
the fossil record from a time prior to Britain losing its land bridge
with continental Europe
Disease No immunity to squirrel parapox
Mating habits Mates once or twice a year, producing litters of up to
Sources: wildlifeonline.me.uk, English Nature, Red Squirrel Protection