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Nature

Grey vs. Red: Scotland to Kill One Squirrel Breed to Save the Other

Conservationists are aghast at a plan to kill thousands of grey squirrels across Scotland in order to allow the red squirrel population room to grow.

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“There are alternatives to a cull,” said Ross Minett of the UK’s Advocates for Animals. “There needs to be more research into immunocontraception for greys and there could be a focus on improving the red squirrel habitat.”

Red squirrels once outnumbered the grey variety but now they are seldom found anywhere but Scotland, where 75% of red squirrels live. Grey squirrels were introduced to Scotland in 1876 and have flourished since, growing to a population of 300,000 — twice that of the red squirrel.

Grey squirrels are stronger and have a better juvenile survival rate, but are also responsible for spreading squirrel pox to red squirrels, which are vulnerable to the disease.

The nearly $2 million plan to kill the animals, called Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, has been organized by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland and the landowners’ group Scottish Rural Property and Business Association.

Scotland’s Environment Minister Michael Russel chimed in with his support, saying the reds must be saved because of their beauty.

“The red squirrel is one of our most beautiful and valuable native species and Scotland is one of the few sanctuaries it has left,” he said. “Since its introduction to the British Isles, the grey squirrel has gradually taken over with its more aggressive feeding habits, meaning that the red is now endangered. We must act now.”

But the general public does not believe killing the grey species is an appropriate measure to take. According to a survey conducted by Advocated for Animals, less than 1 in 3 Scotts agrees with the plan.

“We believe that lethal control of greys simply because they are ‘alien’ cannot be supported.,” reads the organization’s website. “Like many non-indigenous species, grey squirrels were introduced to Britain by man, and it is simply unethical to cause suffering to individual animals which are in the ‘wrong’ place due to the carelessness or ignorance of previous generations of humans.”

Advocacy for Animals and other animal welfare groups support the development of a vaccine as a more humane solution to the problem.

Photo Credits: Gilles Gonthier and gibffe on Flickr under Creative Commons license.



17 comments
  1. Reece Fowler

    This article claims that conservationists oppose the cull.
    This is complete rubbish. Advocates for Animals are not at all a conservation organisation, they are an animal rights organisation. Huge difference.
    Grey squirrels are a disaster for wildlife and conservationists recognise this and support the cull.
    Animal rights organisations oppose the cull, all conservation organisations are in favour.

  2. Reece Cameron Fowler

    This article claims that conservationists oppose the cull.
    This is complete rubbish. Advocates for Animals are not at all a conservation organisation, they are an animal rights organisation. Huge difference.
    Grey squirrels are a disaster for wildlife and conservationists recognise this and support the cull.
    Animal rights organisations oppose the cull, all conservation organisations are in favour.

  3. Ted Billings

    wake up,Scotland! the squirrel situation is a simple result of nature doing its thing! Altho the red squirrel is a beauty and extremely attractive, the grey squirrel is also a wonderful creature, easily trained to become a fun outdoor ‘pet’, and should NOT be killed off. Shame on you for even entertaining such a devious plan!

    1. Reece Fowler

      How is the squirrel situation a result of “nature doing its thing”? It isn’t. Grey squirrels were brought over here by humans, not by nature. Nature didn’t start it, nature shouldn’t finish it. There is nothing natural about the squirrel problem. End of story.

  4. Mecca

    In response to Renee:
    I will not dwell on comments about “idiots crying about global warming and the loss of polar bears,” since this is not a forum on climate change. However, I think it is important to point out that 1) there is hard evidence supporting an overwhelming consensus that climate change is occurring at an alarming rate and 2) the issue of climate change in no way resembles the red squirrel issue. It is clear that you are neither well versed in the biological history of squirrels nor environmental science.
    What I will respond to your ‘natural selection’ explanation. Grey squirrels are a foreign species in the UK and were introduced by humans from North America. It is silly to advocate for letting nature takes it course in this instance where human interference was the cause of the problem in the first place.

  5. Flanker

    Hands off the adorable gray squirrels, you despicable barbarians in Great Britain! The real reason you barbarians kill those beautiful-in-and-out animals is your animosity toward the American people. You barbarians consider those valuable animals the AMERICAN INVASION! The gray squirrels DO NOT eradicate the super-adorable red squirrels. Red squirrels simply run away from the grays, as the latter are stronger genetically. The way to preserve the reds is to focus ON THEM, not to focus murderously on the grays. The number one killer of the squirrels are the bandit-drivers on the streets and roads. Conduct an educational campaign for them to stop killing squirrels. Put up “STOP for squirrels” road signs. Exterminate natural killer of squirrels – raccoons, hawks, falcons, eagles, etc. Protect and feed everywhere the adorable squirrels; ALL OF THEM!

    1. Reece Fowler

      No, the real reason is the damage the grey squirrel does to the reds.

      The grey squirrel is the problem. They compete with reds for food and give the red squirrels the squirrel pox virus. Grey squirrels do wipe out red squirrels.

      We don’t have raccoons over here. The only major predator is the pine marten, which preys more on the grey than it does the red. Pine martens are also rare and few in number.

  6. Amanda

    I agree with Renee for the most part, except the fact that the whole reason the greys are here and taking over is because of… you guessed it, man interfering with nature. However, what I want to say goes out to those who are saying it’s cruel and unethical to kill some greys to save the reds… Listen, either way some squirrels are going to die. Either some of the grey ones in what (I hope) would be a fairly humane manner, or the red ones through starvation and disease.

  7. Micah

    I think that they should have breeding projects to save the red squrriels. Regaurdless of the amount of greys. Maybe through breeding they can come up with a “subspecies” or mutation of red squirrel that is less subseptable to squirrel pox.

  8. Renee

    This is as bad as the conservation projects for the Californian and Andean condors, if not worse. It’s like those idiots crying about global warming and the loss of polar bears. It’s called natural selection. The reason the gray squirrels are taking over is because the environment favors them. By killing them off in order to “save” the red squirrels, aren’t we messing with the environment and the natural order of things? We’re so high on ourselves that we overlook the real, natural progression of things and try to stop them, thinking we’re doing something good. Like the condors, perhaps the red squirrel’s time is up and it is time for the dominant species to go on. Spending money on saving them is futile. Spend that money somewhere else where it’s needed, idiots. Don’t use it on trying to stop something that’s going to happen anyways. You can’t stop Nature!

    1. Kevin Lane

      the greys are an introduced species,not native they are not supposed to occur naturally in this country.They were released by man when we didnt know any better,so its not natures way.

    2. Reece Fowler

      No Renee, the grey squirrel wiping out the red is not the natural order of things at all. The problem was started by humans, and it is humans who must finish it.

      We are not trying to stop the natural progression of things – we are trying to fix a man made problem. The grey squirrel is not in the UK naturally.

      What about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest? Is that just the natural order of things as well?

  9. Angus Macmillan

    Should conservation be culled?

    The grey squirrel cull in the north of Scotland is a waste of taxpayers’ money at a time when the country is falling apart in economic turmoil. Has the Scottish Government nothing better to do with its money?

    Grey squirrels have the ability to reproduce within weeks and quickly move into areas that have been “cleared” so the claim that they can be exterminated over a wide area is complete nonsense.

    Conservationists tell us that grey squirrels are the “cause” of the red squirrel decline through the transmission of squirrel-pox virus (SQPV) but there is no firm evidence to support this. It is merely speculation presented as fact. Squirrel pox has been rife in red squirrel populations long before they had contact with greys.

    In Merseyside, a buffer zone has been in place for a number of years where grey squirrels are killed. However, increased human exploitation of red squirrels for tourism and the frequent intrusion by conservationists for monitoring population levels was always likely to lead to stress and loss of condition of the shy and reclusive red squirrel resulting in an increased susceptibility to disease. The recent announcement that the red squirrel population has declined by 90% in the past two years is hardly surprising.

    In short, fewer grey squirrels with more conservation and tourist intrusion have resulted in a massive decline in the red squirrel population – definitely not the predicted outcome.

    It is not insignificant that the greatest number of red squirrels in the UK live in the least human populated areas – the Highlands of Scotland.

    The conservationists’ catastrophic policy for the survival of red squirrels in Merseyside has gone badly wrong and incredibly our government is advocating more of the same against grey squirrels as the solution in Scotland.

    Government should learn from the mistakes of others; not copy them.

    1. OuzelBird

      All the acknowledged and highly qualified squirrel experts agree that currently the major cause of the red squirrels’ decline is the presence of grey squirrels.
      Before greys were introduced parapox virus used to occur amongst reds spasmodically, presumably as a natural control measure. Now, as greys are carriers, reds constantly face a slow and most unpleasant death wherever they come into contact with greys.
      Angus Macmillan’s opinions are unqualified, bigotted and, in the case of the cause of the Merseyside outbreak of parapox, totally laughable.

    2. Reece Fowler

      Grey squirrels can be eradicated from an area. It is not nonsense at all. Culling works, as long as it continues. If you stop culling numbers will recover, but this is not how culling is carried out.

      There is plenty of evidence of grey squirrels spreading squirrel pox virus, In areas where grey squirrels have the antibodies to the disease, red squirrels catch the virus. When greys do not have the antibodies, reds do not suffer.

      There is no evidence of squirrel pox in this country before the grey arrived.

      The highest numbers of red squirrels are found in areas without grey squirrels, such as North and South Scotland. Grey squirrels are the problem.

  10. trevor

    According to a survey conducted by Advocated for Animals, less than 1 in 3 Scotts agrees with the plan.
    Show us the proof then!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! about these 1 in 3 agree withthe plan

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