Squirrels? They’re a deadly threat to our vulnerable trees
Forestry chief backs the Mail’s Xmas campaign
GREY squirrels are killing trees and we should consider eating them to control numbers, according to the Forestry Commission.
Commission chairman Sir Harry Studholme, who is backing the Mail’s Be A Tree Angel Christmas campaign, said growing more trees is vital to curb climate change.
But he said it was being hindered by the grey squirrel – and if other control measures fail we should cull them and use them for food. Squirrels damage trees by stripping bark, which can lead to deadly fungal infections.
‘Ring barking’ – where all the bark is removed in a circle around a trunk or branch – causes trees to die from that point up.
Sir Harry said: ‘Grey squirrels are very damaging to trees, particularly when they ring-bark oak, beech and sycamore... which can easily kill it. They make the growing of broadleaf timber in the UK virtually impossible’. The Forestry Commission has reintroduced a squirrel predator, the pine marten, in the Forest of Dean in southwest England. But Sir Harry said if that approach does not succeed we should eat ‘grey squirrels in London restaurants’.
Red squirrels are also known to ‘ring bark’ but to a lesser extent than greys. There are 2.5million greys in the UK, compared to 140,000 reds, which have been killed off by squirrel pox.
Sir Harry told environment journal The ENDS report that another destructive species, muntjac deer, which also damages growing trees, might also be hunted for food to control numbers.
Grey squirrels are native to North America, and were introduced to Britain in the 1870s by aristocrats for their country estates. Our campaign – organised with the Tree Council – started on November 23 and so far readers have planted or pledged to plant more than 24,500 trees.
At present just 13 per cent of the UK is woodland. Experts say we need to increase this to help combat carbon dioxide emissions.
Menace: Greedy greys destroy trees by munching through bark
Eat them: Sir Harry