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Action for Squirrels: Member Article by Brian Fishwick

Action for Squirrels: Member Article by Brian Fishwick

Action for Squirrels: member article by Brian Fishwick

I believe most readers will know the history behind the grey menace (grey squirrel) in the UK and hopefully know that Scotland is a stronghold for our resident red squirrel within the UK.

Greys not only out-compete the reds but also do immense damage to woodland by bark-stripping at a cost of millions of pounds to Scottish forestry. The truth is however greys can be fairly easy to trap or shoot, so why are we allowing the greys to continue to spread as they are doing throughout Scotland?

Every year we have an influx of greys in the Glenkens even though I have spent a great deal of time with traps and gun clearing them out; I don’t see any or receive reports of any sightings then suddenly they are there! I usually say the white van man has delivered them and a few experts report this as having happened, same as do-gooders release foxes into the countryside that have been trapped in towns and cities.

As we are in the south of Scotland we are sandwiched between populations of greys south of the border, and the populations of greys in the central belt, especially the populations in Edinburgh and Glasgow: and no one is rushing to do anything about them! It is my belief most of our re-populations travel down from the central belt, (by white van!) there is very little dedicated grey squirrel control taking place north of the Glenkens up to Glasgow, some of the shooting estates do some work but having worked as a keeper I have first-hand experience of the demands of the job. Culling a few greys to help red squirrels won’t be high on their job list.

South of the border in Cumbria there are groups raising money to pay wages for rangers and contractors to control greys. All well and good but the rangers would soon be overrun without the assistance of hundreds of volunteers shooting and trapping greys. These dedicated folk have their own areas to cover and are quite often issued with a thermal imaging device to aid their work. The results from the use of shooting having tracked the grey with a thermal imaging device are phenomenal. Problem is more greys keep appearing from the south, ‘grey England’ I have heard it called.

In Scotland there is a great reliance again on volunteers, across the south of Scotland there are presently seven squirrel groups doing all sorts of work from surveying and monitoring of greys, supplementary feeding of reds to full on dedicated grey control and always raising an awareness of the red’s perilous situation. Anyone wanting information on a local group contact Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) and they will put you in touch.

Here in the Glenkens we have a decent population of our native red squirrel so that means no crush traps allowed, only live cage traps can be used allowing non-target species especially reds to be released unharmed. This makes the job of trapping more time consuming as traps need deactivating at night in winter and checking mid-day at any time of year to release any captured reds. It is hard enough getting around traps every 24 hours as required by law so every 12 hours takes some commitment. I am lucky enough to have obtained permission of landowners to recruit estate staff who can “whizz” around the traps on their quad bike mid-day and in the evening releasing any reds and informing me of greys that need culling as soon as possible, this is working extremely well and without this I could not cope with the number of traps I presently run.

Shooting can be done when having a wander around with a shotgun, though dedicated baited feeders give the best results, for this I use an FAC rated air rifle (safe back stop required) or if I think the squirrel may be on the ground and there is a safe backstop a rimfire .22 or 1.7hmr. Shooting at bait stations usually requires some kind of hide to conceal yourself, in my case a big one! This can either be built using natural materials or one of the modern pop up types.

With the help of gamekeepers in Scotland not necessarily doing the trapping/shooting themselves, but having a team of dedicated trustworthy beaters/helpers picking up folk to head out to the woods after the game season, think of the amount of greys that could be removed. There is also the possibility the estate could qualify for a Forestry Grant Scheme (used to be SRDP) to help pay for grey control. Imagine if Scottish gamekeepers/shooting community saved the red squirrel from extinction: the amount of goodwill they should get! All those that snipe away every day at shooting and sporting estates will have to think twice before they say anything negative regarding shooting.

So why not give it a go? The season is nearly over, reward your helpers with a bit of squirrel shooting or trapping it will do the reds a favour, save the boss money on his forestry and get rid of a feed-robbing pest; apparently, they are also good to eat though my attempt at squirrel pie is still in the freezer!

Note- Following a number of queries to SACS by members asking to provide a training course in order to help manage grey squirrels and assist with red squirrel conservation a course date has now been set. More details for the SACS- Squirrel Management Course can be found on the events page. Alternatively you can contact the office on 01350 724228.

Posted by: / 18 May 2018 at 09:41 / Comment

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