Posted by Julie
I am hoping to generate enthusiasm for the idea of getting red squirrels back to Hardcastle Crags. When I first lived here in 1972 there were reds at the top end of the Crags especially among the pine trees at the Blakedean end of the valley.
Apparently the last one to be seen was in the 1980s. Some people think that the reds were driven out by the greys or that they lost food or habitat. It now seems the real reason is that the greys, which were introduced from America in 1876, carry a virus that kills the reds (squirrel poxvirus. The virus causes skin ulcers, swollen eyes and discharge around the mouth feet and genitals, the squirrel usually dies in 15 days. Some Cumbrian red squirrels have responded to an anti-viral drug Virbagen used on pets.)
Greys can live at a greater density than reds 8 per hectare rather than 1 per hectare. So reds need plenty of space. It is not just a question of aren't the reds cute. They are an endangered species. The estimate is that there are only 140,000 left in the UK with 2.5 million greys. The greys are also a threat to nesting birds and fledgelings.
There are places where the reds still thrive with protection, for example Thirlmere and Whinfell Forest and in other places in Cumbria, and Northumberland, particularly in Kielder Forest.
For the reds to survive the greys have to be kept out or removed from the area, obviously a controversial idea.
On Anglesey reds have been re-introduced using captive stock from uk zoos. The reds were housed initially in a large enclosure and then released after some years. The clearing of Newborough Forest to create the reserve took 20 days of trapping. Trapping and shooting the greys is legal, as they are classed as vermin. Re-locating them is not I think feasible, and they would continue to be a threat to any returning reds. A red squirrel reserve needs a buffer zone of as much as 5kms around it to keep the reds safe and virus free. Clearing and maintaining the area in and around the Crags 'grey free' would take time and would need the positive support of local people.
Around Thirlmere there are signs up with contact numbers telling visitors who to ring if they see a grey squirrel. The red squirrels there are given supplementary feeding, they are not shy, and are a beautiful sight.
From Andy M
Its a nice idea and the Crags would seem a fitting location, both habitat-wise and from a public benefit viewpoint. My main question(and probably a question you would get asked a lot) would be exactly how would the grey squirrels be reduced and then subsequently controlled? At some point the effort and expense could outweigh the value of the introduction and I'm sure some people will find the ethics of eradication unpalatable.
I'm not personally against intervention style conservation - being involved in that line of work professionaly - but it will be interesting to see the range of views in a place like HB!
Whilst the idea of having red squirrels back is lovely, I think that if we have to slaughter the grey squirrel population to do so then we should probably just leave the whole thing as it is. Or have I missed something?
Apparently grey squirrels are highly destructive of forests and wild birds. Also, as immigrants they appear not have much in the way of competitors. 'We' introduced them to this country and 'we' are going to have to do something about controlling them.
From Andy M
We don't 'have' to do something about greys. They can be a pest in plantations but are not very troublesome elsewhere. True, they are an introduction but then so are a lot of other things - Syacamores for instance; whose eradication would leave the landscape around here looking a bit bare!
As raised in the initial article, a 5km exclusion zone is necessary to stop re-colonisation by grey squirrels. To clarify, that doesn't just mean 5km around the Crags, which is big enough. It would mean clearing the most if not all of the Calder Valley, because Nutclough Wood is less than 5km away from the Crags which is less than 5km from Cragg Vale and so on and so on.
From a quick cursory look at an OS map you can see wooded areas, which are currently colonised by Greys running from the other side of Tod through Mythomroyd and up Cragg Vale.
Raising the capital to carry out the project and then to employ a permanent team to maintain the exclusion zone appears nigh on impossible, and that's without getting involved in public opinion or seeking permission from the varying landowners. So I think investing the money in keeping areas that already have Red Squirrels free of Greys is our best option.
Having said all that I think its a great idea, and just because it seems impossible to many people doesn't mean that it is!
One other option could be to sterilise the Grey Squirrel population, but I'm sure that will open another can of worms.
PS They are edible :-)
If people are talking about investing money and effort, and for sure both will be needed to reintroduce reds, and if the virus story is true, then it might be more productive to develop a vaccine to protect the reds rather than trying to eat the greys to death.
From Robert Scholey
I honestly believe that the red squirrel should be allowed to live in the Crags. After all, this was their "native ground". The introduction of "greys" has virtually wiped out our natives. Greys are not particularly native here or weren't. I don't see any good reason for them to be allowed to live here in the Crags.
From Andy M
No good reason to be 'allowed' to live here?! Thought we were a tolerant bunch in HB!
As I've mentioned before - where would you stop eradicating 'non-natives'? Much of the forestry in The Craggs is introduced in some fashion: the beeches would have been planted north of their natural regneration zone, Sycamores are non-native - the valley would be quite different.
Reds are a nice idea but could well be impractical.
Posted by Julie
Yes it is hard, do we actively intervene or passively accept the situation? Britain is a largely managed environment, farmed, gardened, grouse moor etc. We make choices all the time about what we grow, and what we destroy. Are some of you linking red versus grey, and issues of who or what is welcome in these Islands? I welcome all humans who come here so long as they treat our land and it's people with respect. I don't get emotional about sycamores, too invasive. I'm not influenced by the fact that the greys are American!
They have no major predator except us, so 'humane killing' is the only way to contain them. All non-vegetarians accept humane killing of farm animals, and vegetarian gardeners who talk to their plants must know they scream when they're pulled up.
Look at the Red Squirrel links at the bottom of the page and you'll find useful answers around the topics of funding re-introduction projects, and how to manage different types of woodland environment so the habitat is structured in a way to suit reds not greys. This might help contain greys after an initial cull.
Posted by John Blackburn
Interesting 'thread', this is, but diplaying a lamentable lack of detailed environmental/biological knowledge. So: 'reds', like the arctic fox, the lynx and maybe the wolf, belong to our post-Wurm glaciation sub-arctic period. They depend, amongst other things, on 'connected' forest - they're very arboreal - and until we have such a thing, wouldn't return if we 'eliminated' greys tomorrow. 'Greys' are pre-adapted to our current pattern in the same way as blackbirds, and not far off as successful. The 'reds' were simply living in a time-warp, and just about managing,. when we, idiots that we are, introduced a totally alien species. But: we can't un-invent the past. We have to go with what we've got. I do not support the extermination of 'greys', because it would not bring back reds, who are probably doomed by climate change anyway. If the good folk of H.B. want to do something about our environment, why not 'eliminate' Himalayan Balsam and Japanese Knot-Weed? Closer to home, and easier to get at. Or is the thought of real action, as opposed to striking a pose, too much like hard work?
From Andy M
Whils't I agree with you about the probable impracticalities of re-introduction of reds their protection and enhancement is the subject of a national Species Action Plan
Reds managed pretty well before Greys - we haven't had real 'connected' forest for thousands of years - but it would certainly be more practicable to tackle JKW or Balsam locally.
From Norris Atthey
I have a web site which might be of interest as it cocerns the Northumberland Reds.I have put forward a suggestion that reds be reallocated from certain areas to a safer haven and the authorities are just not interested. People in general have been kept in the dark as to the danger the grey poses not just to reds but to wildlife, property and gardens etc. We have a situation where the authorities seem to have been unaware of the legal status of the grey( basically it has no standing ). The Anglesey project has proved the authorities to be incompetant.
Google Search Results for "red squirrell"
"Once noted for its red squirrels - the last sighting at the Crags was in the 1980s - the woods now abound with grey squirrels. The National Trust wardens believe the grey squirrel, which came here from America driving out our native red squirrel, is not particularly good to have around in new woodlands. They will strip the bark of trees and in hazel and oak woodland will take seeds that are still green and either eat them or bury them - if seeds are not left to ripen they will not germinate." BBC website