Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Stop Cull of Gray Squirrels in Scotland

I have written before on this blog about the tragic situation with the Eurasian red and eastern gray squirrels in Great Britain. Although I can honestly see both sides of the debate over culling of gray squirrels, I do not think culling provides a long-term solution to the problem, and thus the likely results do not justify the killing and the cruelty that would be inflicted on the grays in Britain.

There is now an online petition on asking the Scottish Wildlife Trust to halt the culling of gray squirrels in Scotland. I hope that you will sign this petition. I also hope that you will read the text under "Why This Is Important" before signing. I'll summarize some of the key points as to why culling is not a solution:

  • Reducing the numbers of a species (in this case, gray squirrels) by culling improves the availability of resources, which will cause the numbers of that species to rebound very quickly through more successful breeding.
  • Also, neighboring populations from outside the cull area will move in to replace the population that is lost through killing. The increase in mobility through this process could actually increase the spread of squirrel pox virus which has been so devastating to red squirrels.
  • For the reasons above, culling can actually, in a fairly short time, actually increase the population density of the culled species and make the situation even worse, for both the reds and grays, through overpopulation.

The gray squirrel is now found throughout most of Great Britain. Culling in Scotland is a short-term approach that can not resolve this situation. There is no way that a regional cull can eliminate gray squirrels because as soon as the killing stops in any local area, the population of grays will rebound and probably even increase.

In my opinion, culling of gray squirrels is nothing but pointless cruelty. Baby squirrels will be left to die in their dreys when their mothers are killed. Countless squirrels will be trapped and shot or drowned, with no real long-term benefit to the red squirrel population.

The decline of the red squirrel in Great Britain is tragic, but culling of gray squirrels is not a solution. Such a cruel and ineffective measure will only increase the tragedy. Please take action and sign the petition.


  1. I do´nt sign it. Scottland is not the usual habitat for the grey squirrels

  2. Rebecca, ScotlandMarch 21, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    If Gray Squirrel numbers are not controlled there will be no Red Squirrel in Britain and although there are Red Squirrels in Europe the Red Squirrel in Britain are a seperate sub-species. When there is a solution other than culling I will happily support it but currently there isn't one.

  3. Silke and Rebecca, I understand your opinion, but the reason that I disagree is that culling is not a solution. Unless you were somehow able to slaughter every last gray squirrel in Great Britain--and even if this were possible, it would be a horrific bloodbath, millions of squirrels killed--then as I explained above, the gray squirrel population would not only recover, but most likely even increase. Culling of gray squirrels will not save the red squirrel. The only result will be more and more dead gray squirrels.

    What I hope more than anything is that some real solution will be found, through management of public lands in Scotland and other areas of Britain, and hopefully a scientific means of curing or controlling the spread of squirrel pox.

    I sympathize with all people of Great Britain who want to see their red squirrels saved. The disappearance of any species or sub-species is a terrible tragedy. I love all kinds of squirrels, and it hurts just to think about this situation. I just don't see how the ongoing mass killing of gray squirrels is going to solve anything.

    Thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful comments.

  4. May be it´s possible to get them in a live trap and to castrate them.

  5. It is worth bearing in mind that this is not just a British problem. There are also grey squirrels in Italy, and if they are allowed to get beyond the Alps they could potentially push the red squirrel to extinction throughout Europe.
    On the subject of cruelty, trapping and killing of grey squirrels is not cruel, just unpleasant. The RSPCA have stated that the method used to clear the Isle of Anglesey of grey squirrels is the most humane method of killing possible, and as far as I am aware this is the method used wherever trapping is undertaken in Britain.
    It is a very effective method of isolating red squirrels from grey squirrels, so long as an adequate buffer is created and maintained between the two species. As has been pointed out, there is currently no other effective alternative, although it is hoped that one day an oral immuno-contraceptive will be available. Until then, all we can do is try to keep the two species apart.
    The threat to the red squirrels is not just a matter of disease transmission, far from it. Even without Squirrel Pox the grey squirrels will replace the red squirrels, due to competitive exclusion. Basically, the greys take all the food, and the reds lose condition, stop breeding, and die out.
    The grey squirrels also cause other problems. Because they live at much higher densities than the native red squirrel (ten times higher in some habitats), they put a lot of pressure on other species. They compete with our native species, such as dormice, for food; they predate birds' eggs and young to a much greater degree than red squirrels; and they can cause extensive damage to trees.
    We have a very simple choice: we can have EITHER red or grey squirrels, NOT BOTH!! The red squirrel has been here since just after the end of the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago, whereas the grey squirrel was introduced just over 100 years ago, ironically because some people thought it would be nice to have 2 types of squirrel in Britain. For various reasons relating to conservation of native species and biodiversity, the red squirrels need to be saved, and if this means killing grey squirrels, then so be it. Until an oral contraceptive is available, killing grey squirrels to protect the few remaining populations of red squirrels is absolutely necessary. This is not a matter of killing every grey squirrel in Britain (and Ireland and Italy), but reducing the possibility of grey squirrels and red squirrels interacting, so that the red squirrels can continue to survive. If an oral contraceptive can be developed, this can then be used to stop grey squirrels reproducing over the rest of the country.
    This is not a matter of cruelty, it is a matter of having to do the unpleasant task of killing grey squirrels, as humanely as possible, to save the red squirrels from extinction.

  6. While I agree that culling is not an ideal long term solution without removing every single Grey Squirrel in the UK, there is currently no other way of stemming the Grey's advance north in Scotland; which is where the bulk of the UK population of Red Squirrels is presently found.

    Work is ongoing to develop a vaccine against the squirrel pox virus which may possibly offer a chance for these two species to co-exist. In the meantime it would be criminal to allow further dramatic decline of Scotland's Red Squirrels without knowing how long it will be before an alternative solution may be found.

    It's certainly not an option to sit idly by and watch an entire sub-species become extinct, so if culling is the only way we can presently protect the remaining Red Squirrels, then that's what we'll have to do.

    In an ideal world I would like to see both species living happily together but I don't see that as very likely, not only because of the squirrel pox virus, but also because they didn't evolve together naturally.

    The Grey Squirrel is an alien, introduced by humans, into an ecosystem that has not had enough time to develop strategies for coping with it.

  7. Very true! The culling of Greys Squirrels is in no way a solution. Instead they should be trying to find a vaccine to the squirrel pox virus which is partly causing the reduction in the red squirrel population. However, contrary to common belief, Grey Squirrels are not the primary cause of the decline in red squirrels, the actual cause was in-fact due to deforestation, building of cities and the culling (as surprising as it may be) of the red squirrels in the Victorian Era as they were considered pests! So why the sudden change of heart? Why Should a successful species perish? Anyway this is a very informative blog entry!

  8. SOG,

    There is no vaccine for squirrel pox, and it could take years to develop one. Furthermore, grey squirrels are more than capable of wiping reds out through competition alone. A squirrel pox vaccine will only slow the red squirrel's extinction down on its own.

    Grey squirrels ARE the main cause of the red squirrel's decline. This is well proven, well accepted and well demonstrated fact.

    Deforestation? Woodland area has been increasing for the latter half of the 20th century, and this increase is ongoing.

    Culling stopped nearly a hundred years ago, and even when it was ongoing, it was not intense enough to wipe out the reds completely.

    "why the sudden change of heart?"
    Are you saying we should sit back and watch the red squirrel become extinct? The fact that public opinion has changed is no reason to ignore a problem which we caused in the first place. Victorians also persecuted buzzards and other raptors. Does that mean we must maintain the same attitude to wildlife today?

    "why should a successful species perish?"
    The grey squirrel may be successful, but this is irrelevant. The grey squirrel is not native to the UK. They were brought over by people, so any arguments about the grey squirrel being successful should go out the window.

  9. Hi there. I live in a world of endless Grey squirrels, they number in the thousands, and we while never be able to remove them!! I live in Toronto, Canada, and earlier this year, my wife, Jean, and I were in Ireland where we came upon the rarely seen Red Squirrel. To us, they actually look somewhat like our American Red squirrels, but boy, do they have long ears! We were shocked to learn that U.K. and Irish Red squirrels are contracting the pox virus from Grey squirrels, and dying. We have far to many Grey squirrels here at our feeders. But up north near Algonquin Park we have seen a few Red squirrels. We feel very lucky to have seen two Red squirrels in Ireland. We have posted some of our pictures and video of our Red squirrel sightings in Ireland, and Canada for anyone interested at:

  10. There's no reason to develop a vaccination, because as Fish and Wildlife has said, there's no way to go out and vaccinate every red squirrel, then every new squirrel born. As of 2002 the efforts of the cull had actually created a 15 mile buffer zone around a population of reds, with the effort being to push this 15 mile zone back further and further by culling grays. So actually yes, the cull is doing just fine. It needs more hands, but no, it won't make the gray population larger. And no, it's not harming the reds, it's only a benefit to them.

    While it's never happy when we have do kill innocent animals over the stupid actions of humans, like in this case where humans brought over the gray, it has to be done. Before trying to create petitions to stop 'hurting animals' you should look into the real environmental science of what's going on. Everyone needs to be informed about the measures taken to stop the invasion of the gray squirrel, and all dangerous invasive species.

  11. The comments in favour of grey squirrel culling is not only heartless, but totally irrational.Since 2008 it has been proven that red squirrels have built up immunity to the pox virus so you cannot use that as an excuse, and even if they weren't immune, why should any sentient being be punished just for being a carrier of an illness. There are countless number of people who are carriers of disease, sometime they are not even aware of it. It could even be YOU. Should we cull such people too in order to 'protect' the human population? Besides, red squirrels were already suffering from the parapox virus well before any greys were brought over here, so why is this even being used as an excuse?
    And deforestation HAS played an enormous part in the red squirrel decline. The red squirrel thrives best in thick pine forests, and there are hardly any of those around. Before their decline and when humans started destroying their natural habitat and heavily culling them (yes, you used to cull the red squirrels too and even had red squirrel hunting clubs), there used to be masses of forest and a squirrel could go from tree to tree from north to south of the country without actually having to set foot on the ground. Look at the country now! You can't say that there is even a fraction of what is used to be, never mind about halfway there! The country's landscape has changed, thanks to people, and therefore you can't expect other changes not to take place too. it's a case of survival of the fittest,and the greys are far more adaptable and suited to this landscape as it is today..They are being unfairly demonised for just surviving. Who are you to play God and decide which species should live or die? Would you like it if it was happening to you and another species was controlling you by killing you and leaving your babies to starve?
    And Wildlife Ranger, who seems to be saying that greys should not be allowed to live anywhere in the world - not just here, but throughout Europe and beyond (it beggars belief the stupidity of so many of these comments on this page), would you still be saying that killing the greys is 'not inhumane' if you were being killed in the same way?
    You lot want to preserve the reds just so that you can gawk at them now, after having killed them off in the first place (so it's somewhat hypocritical to want to preserve them when it's too late), but that is not good enough a reason to justify killing the scapegoated greys.
    And another argument used by you that reeks of hypocrisy is this" native to Britain" argument. How many of you people are 100 per cent 'native' to Britain anyway? Not even the Royal Family is native to Britain, such natives died out long ago!! If we use this same argument to apply to you then you don't deserve to be here either! The greys deserve to live in peace without persecution from you. Live and let live.