New Podcast: Pauline Kidner | Grey Squirrels and the Invasive Alien Species Order 2019

For a so-called nation of animal lovers, we – or at least our government – really don’t seem to like Grey Squirrels. Reds yes, but Greys no.

While many people love seeing squirrels no matter what colour they are, others just can’t bear them. Chris Packham has suggested that the Grey Squirrel is the UK’s “most unpopular non-native invader” but do we really dislike them that much? Or are we actually being educated to dislike them against our better nature – are they really ‘vermin’, ‘pests’, ‘tree rats’?

Other introductions to Britain include the Brown Hare, Rabbit, Fallow Deer, Red-legged Partridge and of course the Pheasant (40 million of the latter are released into the countryside EVERY year) – none of them are strictly ‘British’ either (and of course all were introduced to eat, hunt, or shoot) – but we don’t seem to have quite the same problems with them.

Much of the rhetoric around Greys revolves around the fact that they’re squeezing out Red Squirrels – but we actually have a remarkably chequered attitude to Reds as well, exterminating them across most of their range by the end of the 19th century. Opponents also say that Greys damage trees. True, but not anywhere near as many as we damage/cut down through building transport and housing infrastructure, of course.

Whatever the double standards being operated here, the fact is that in the eyes of the law the Grey Squirrel is an invasive species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act which means that it is illegal to release one into the wild except under licence or allow it to escape after capture.

And now the law is really getting tough on them. Under a piece of legislation called – fittingly perhaps for a Brexit-era UK – the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019 it will be illegal to release squirrels that have been taken into care (something previously allowed under licence). Originally planned to come into force in March this year, the government has decided to delay implementation of the Order until the autumn…

What does all of this mean on the ground, though, to rescuers and carers, to vets, to the welfare of Grey Squirrels themselves (and they are sentient animals whatever your personal opinion of them might be)?

I went to the amazing Secret World Wildlife Rescue in Somerset to talk with its founder, Pauline Kidner, about how she thinks the new Order will impact squirrels, how it will impact her and the staff at Secret World and how it reflects a wider disconnect with wild animals and their welfare…

I began though by asking Pauline to explain what the current law allows and how it’s changing….

Pauline Kidner | Grey Squirrels and the Invasive Alien Species Order 2019

Visiting Pauline Kidner, founder of Secret World

I’m heading south later today to talk with Pauline Kidner, founder of Secret World Animal Rescue, about how a very specific change in the law will impact how carers/rescuers will be able to treat and release Grey Squirrels.

Not worth the bother?

The Grey Squirrel is one of the most maligned mammals in the UK, and heavily subject to ‘value-based language’ – it’s an ‘alien’, a ‘non-native’, it’s ‘vermin’. Greys are blamed for wiping out Red Squirrels, but we virtually exterminated the Red Squirrel throughout the UK ourselves in previous centuries and have reintroduced huge numbers of ‘non-native’ Reds from Europe. The forestry industry blames Greys for destroying trees, but it is us that has cut down vast areas of forest, and it is us that still devastate ancient forests to build housing and transport infrastructure.

And what about the impact on carers themselves – torn between taking in sick or injured animals but knowing it would be illegal to ever let them go again, even in areas where Reds have not been seen for hundreds of years?

As always, these stories are never as simple as they might seem…

EDIT: So I went to Secret World (with my daughter Evie) to do the podcast. I didn’t want to get in the way (everyone at Secret World is SO hard working) so half-expected to be in and out in under an hour. But Pauline took us on a guided tour, talked about the animals in her care, sat down with both of us for a cuppa in her kitchen, and then did the interview. What a genuinely lovely, lovely person.