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
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
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….