A Good Idea at the Time?

By David Feather

Are you for or against grey squirrels?

There can be passionate arguments for and against these invasive aliens. I have seen the serious damage they do to trees in the park and they are said to carry a virus which is deadly for the reds. They are more friendly than reds and look very cuddly. In fact they appear as attractive cuddly toys.

Two of our cuddly grey squirrels photographed in the park by DKG

Some days ago my wife drew my attention to a piece in The Times, which was a reprint of an article published in 1921, 100 years ago. It reported on the origin and success of grey squirrels in Britain. I thought it worth doing a bit more digging in the internet.

One of the most detailed accounts is in Wildlife On-line which put the possible first release as early as 1828 in Denbighshire. The first really documented was in 1876 when a Victorian banker, Thomas V. Brockenhurst released a pair of pet grey squirrels, north American natives, that he had grown tired of. Perhaps he had got them for Christmas and the novelty wore off? Anyway, it seems he started a trend and the greys have prospered and spread across the land.

The full website page is worth reading – https://www.wildlifeonline.me.uk/questions/answer/whats-the-story-behind-the-grey-squirrel-in-britain .

Squirrel damage to the park’s trees.

Greys are bigger and have a reputation for being aggressive, but they do not directly kill red squirrels and there is evidence that red squirrels were already on the decline because of loss of habitat and disease. The grey’s success seems to be down to the fact that they are more successful in competing for food and, as mentioned earlier, they may pass on disease. They are also a whole ocean away from their natural American predators, they are prolific breeders with 2 litters a year of between 3 and 7 kits – and people feed them. How could they not be successful?

Header image: Squirrel by Simon Knight

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