Should we back the reds?

Middlesbrough Herald & Post - - HERALD & POST -

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 eric.pay­lor@gmail.com

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