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What ever happened to the red squirrel?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The grey squirrel that can be observed in the United Kingdom today is not a native species; it was introduced to the UK in 1876 in Henbury Park, Cheshire. Back then, we had no conception of what introducing a non-native species would do to our native squirrel, the red squirrel, and if we had, there's a chance the grey wouldn't have been introduced at all.

For you see over just 25 years, the grey squirrel had colonised 300 miles of the UK and pushed the red squirrel north into Scotland. It is here that 75 percent of the UK's red squirrel population now resides. In England, most red squirrels can be found in The Lake District, where their numbers are growing thanks to conservation projects, however the red squirrel is still seriously outnumbered; 160,000 live in the UK compared to 2.5 million greys.

Rise of the planet of the grey squirrels

There are several factors that influenced the grey's domination over the red. The first is that grey squirrels are bigger and more aggressive. They are not cannibals, nor do they kill their red brethren, however they outcompete them for territory. As a result they drive red squirrels away and take over their habitat. They are simply better aggressors. Grey squirrels are also more prolific scavengers. They outcompete red squirrels for food. Grey squirrels are also more prolific breeders. A female grey squirrel may have a litter of 4-7 kits twice a year, while red squirrels may have a litter of 3-4 kits twice a year.

So grey squirrels are more prolific scavengers and more prolific breeders. However, this is not necessarily the reason why they are now the dominant species in the UK.

Most people agree this is because grey squirrels are carriers of a disease (squirrel poxvirus) that's fatal to reds. Most red squirrels will die within just 15 days if they catch it. It's a horrible disease that causes skin ulcers and lesions around the eyes, feet and mouth - although its origins are unknown. It is treatable by a vet if it is discovered early, however it rarely is and as such the mortality rate for red squirrels in the wild is high.

Despite this, it's important not to hate on the grey squirrel. They do not intentionally kill their red brethren and, let's be honest, they are cute! However, they can prove a nuisance for homeowners, with grey squirrels sometimes aggressive towards pets and small children and they have been known to enter the home looking for food. So if you find yourself with a squirrel problem, call us on 01635 250 852 today to discuss trapping.

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