Thousands of grey squirrels killed in effort to save native cousins
THOUSANDS of grey squirrels have been killed across west Penwith in recent years.
The area was chosen alongside the Lizard Peninsula for an extensive cull of the animal in the hope of reintroducing their red cousins, who were last seen in the two spots in 1984.
The Cornwall Red Squirrel Trust enlisted the help of farmers and homeowners in 2009 in an effort to curtail the population of greys, which have been killed by shooting, trapping or poisoning.
So far the scheme has been declared a success, with figures dropping from thousands to just hundreds.
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The trust hopes to release captive-bred red squirrels into west Penwith and the Lizard in the next few years.
In a progress report last week, coordinator Natasha Collings said: “The aim for the next three to five years is twofold, firstly to ensure the ongoing removal of grey squirrels from the target areas and buffer zone, and secondly to continue to enthuse and educate the public about the plight of the red squirrel.”
Many believe the native red squirrel would be driven to extinction if culls such as this one are not introduced, with its cross-Atlantic counterparts said to carry a deadly disease.
It is believed that up to five million greys, originally arriving from the US and Canada, populate woodlands across the UK - contributing to the red squirrel’s significant drop in numbers; falling to between 120,000 and 140,000.
West Penwith was one of the sites chosen for the project because of its rural environment.
However, the cull has come under scrutiny from some wildlife groups, such as Animal Aid, who claim culling is “cruel” and “not an effective method of population control.”
Others have argued the rugged Cornish heathland is not the right place for the native species - as it favours a more wooded habitat.