Squir­rels? They’re a deadly threat to our vul­ner­a­ble trees

Forestry chief backs the Mail’s Xmas cam­paign

Scottish Daily Mail - - Comment - By Colin Fer­nan­dez En­vi­ron­ment Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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