Grey squirrels to be culled in bid to reintroduce reds
Another species, another Westcountry cull... But this time the people who are setting out to eradicate a species locally believe there will not be any kind of backlash from animal rights protesters, claiming their project will have nothing but positive environmental outcomes.
While the badger cull continues in West Somerset, a group of wildlife experts and more than 80% of the landowners on the Lizard Peninsula are mounting a mass extermination of grey squirrels in a bid to reintroduce their indigenous red cousins.
The programme, being run by a group called the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project, aims to remove nearly 4,000 grey squirrels from about 100,000 acres south of the River Helford through poisoning, trapping and shooting.
At the heart of the project is the 1,000-year-old Trelowarren estate whose owner, Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, told the Western Morning News: "We're rapidly approaching a point where no one will be able to remember red squirrels. I can just remember them and I am in my mid-fifties. And the woodland valleys around the Helford provide an ideal habitat for them."
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Asked if those taking part in the cull were worried about attracting animal-rights protests like the ones being seen in West Somerset, Sir Ferrers replied: "Most people seem quite happy with what's being done. And 85% of the landowners on the Lizard have signed up.
"The eradication of grey squirrels is an ongoing thing – indeed, the Forestry Commission tells you how to go about it because they cause so much damage. We have been working on the project for four or five years now – there have been fence-sitters, but they are beginning to come onto our side.
"For one thing, the project is independently funded," said Sir Ferrers, adding that the project's experts did not yet know exactly when the first red squirrels would be reintroduced to the area...
The Lizard joins West Penwith as one of two Cornish areas that have been chosen as trial zones for a national project to reintroduce Britain's indigenous squirrel. Experts believe that the isolated geography of the peninsulas make them ideal for re-establishing red squirrels, which are much less harmful to trees and birds than the greys.
They were introduced to the UK from the USA as garden pets in the late 19th century. Slowly, naturalists began to realise that areas colonised by grey squirrels were cleared of reds, but it was not until the mid-1980s that the main reason for the loss was discovered.
Squirrel pox virus is carried by the greys, which suffer no ill-effects from the disease – but the pox is fatal to reds. By 2000 just 170,000 red squirrels remained in the UK, compared to around five million greys.
The Cornish Red Squirrel Project now has a full-time ranger and the estimate is that the indigenous breed will be start to be seen again in the county within the next four to five years.