squirrel nation Peter Coates

Over the past 200 years, red squirrels have become endangered and grey squirrels have thrived, leading to laws that cull the latter and protect the former. But in fact, the main reason red squirrels are endangered is due to their natural habitats being torn down (pine trees in particular) which is why in areas where such forests remain (like Northumberland), red squirrels thrive. For more information, listen to Professor Acorn (a grey squirrel who wants to set the record straight!) In a nutshell, red squirrels die of disease, mostly because they have poor immunity due to lack of natural habitats, and being fed the wrong foods by humans. Whereas grey squirrels eat high-calorie nuts as their main diet (not peanuts), red squirrels feed more on small seeds from conifer cones.

Read A Scurry of Squirrels. This book by wildlife rehabilitator Polly Pullar looks at how she has created spectacular results in helping to save red squirrels, not through culling grey squirrels but by creating habitats akin to how they live in the wild. Also read Squirrel Nation by environmental professor Peter Coates.

Local wildlife rescue shelters are appalled that the recent Invasive Alien Species laws (which also affects muntjac deer) means it’s not legal to release any rehabilitated rescues of either species (some still do rescue them but then have to keep them in captivity for life).  All squirrel experts now say the kindest thing to do is simply discourage grey squirrels from feeding in your garden (try not to use squirrel-proof feeders as they are clever creatures that can get trapped) and fix roof damage and block access points where needed.

Urban Squirrels (London) is campaigning to change the law, so that grey squirrels can legally be rescued and released. Their site addresses common myths like greys spreading the pox virus (in fact, feeding stations to help red squirrels are concentrating an area for the virus to easily spread), they damage forests (they strip bark which actually creates food like insects for birds to eat – it’s the commercial forestries who don’t want squirrels living in trees).

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