Opinion Former Article

Action required to tackle Britain’s worst invasive species

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is calling for increased action in tackling one of Britain’s most damaging invasive species, the grey squirrel.

Significant action is being called for as levels of management have dropped as a result of lockdown measures dealing with coronavirus. The lack of control has led to increased levels of damage and directly threatens the future of the red squirrel in this country.

The European Squirrel Initiative estimate the damage caused by grey squirrels to the UK forestry industry, when normal control measures are in place, is around £40 million per year.

Additionally, the lack of control prior to the breeding season will see a wave of dispersing grey squirrels that could devastate the gains that numerous hard-working red squirrel projects have made. Grey squirrels carry squirrel pox virus which does not affect them but is fatal to red squirrels and a core strategy of any red squirrel project is keeping them separate from their grey cousins.

Many of these red squirrel projects rely on trained volunteers to monitor and remove grey squirrels as well as other in the field conservation work for red squirrels. The initial coronavirus restrictions have effectively halted volunteer activities.

Ian Danby, head of biodiversity at BASC, said: “The impact of coronavirus restrictions across the UK has curtailed volunteer conservation efforts. With reduced control and the grey squirrel’s habit of stripping bark from April onwards the damage is expected to be significantly worse this year.

“Fortunately, as we move out of lockdown volunteers in England can restart their efforts on controlling grey squirrels and other invasive alien species.

“We hope that the situation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will allow for volunteer action to resume in the near future, both as an indicator or our success in this public health crisis but also to avoid a crisis for nature and woodland health.”

Kay Haw, UK Squirrel Accord Director, said: “Effective management of the invasive non-native grey squirrel in the UK is vital to protect important tree species from damage and fatalities through bark stripping, and prevent further loss of surviving red squirrel populations through competition and disease transmission.

“The risk assessments and protocols put in place at this time by BASC, Red Squirrels Northern England, and others, to safeguard professionals and volunteers carrying out management activities are important for the individuals concerned and the wider public. They are also vital to delivering the key goals of sustainable woodland management, nature conservation and supporting biodiversity across the landscape.”


Notes to Editors:
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is the UK’s largest shooting organisation, representing the interests of approximately 155,000 members.

The UK Squirrel Accord is a UK-wide partnership of 37 leading governmental and non-governmental conservation and forestry organisations with links to red squirrel conservation groups. The organisation is currently researching an oral contraceptive to offer another effective tool for grey squirrel management

Invasive Alien Species are in the top five risks to nature globally. Invasive species cost the UK economy £1.8 billion per year.

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