Should we back the reds?
MY recent story about the red squirrel at Castle Eden reminded me that this is a big year for this threatened creature.
We are in grave danger of losing our much-loved national wildlife icon, certainly from the areas where it continues to hang on in England.
Red squirrels can still be found in small numbers in Cumbria and in County Durham, where I was very fortunate to take this photo.
However only around 20,000 red squirrels remain in England and they are under continual threat from the two and a half million greys which, as we all know, are an introduced species.
Grey squirrels carry squirrelpox which is harmless to them but can kill a red squirrel within a week.
An organisation called Red Squirrels United has been formed with the support of 30 conservation groups. RSU have the financial backing of £3m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU Life programme.
In the past couple of years there has been a much-publicised attempt to try to rid Cornwall of grey squirrels in order to re-introduce reds, while 6,000 greys have been eliminated in the battle to make Anglesey a red stronghold.
Plans to try to eradicate grey squirrels nationally do not meet the approval of everybody. There is a counter petition claiming that greys have equal right to exist here.
I don’t suspect for one moment that all the greys will be wiped out. Eradication procedures have been successful with some non-natives, such as the coypu, but not with oth- ers. The ruddy duck still hangs on, for example, despite the attempts of shooters.
While there are nature lovers who are aghast at the thought of grey squirrels being culled, some of these people will live in areas where they never see red squirrels.
If the reds were to take over again then maybe most grey squirrel fans would not be disappointed in the long run. Or maybe they would.
One thing I found interesting last week was the sighting of the first pine marten in Yorkshire for many years. There is a theory that grey squirrels don’t like to be around pine martens. So that’s another subject which merits consideration.
The bottom line is that we need to conserve our native species. The sighting of a red squirrel always sends shivers of delight down the spine.
But if grey squirrels survive into the future, even in small areas, should we be protective of them? It’s an extremely emotive issue.
Eric would like to hear from readers about what they have seen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org