Thursday, 22 July 2010

Why is everyone picking on Grey Squirrels?

If you have read the newspapers recently you will have come across this story about a man who was fined £1,500 under the Animal Cruelty Act for drowning a Grey Squirrel. I found it difficult to read the story and see the picture of the perpetrator proudly standing next to the water butt he used to drown the squirrel (apparently he thought it was the kindest way). So, why did he kill the squirrel? Apparently the cheeky fellow had the audacity to raid his bird feeder (is it just me or is there something kind of ironic about being kind enough to put food out for birds and then murdering a squirrel who helped himself?)

The stories circulating the press have resulted in comments such as "£1,500 for drowning a Squirrel? You wait. It'll be slugs next. Then flies" (James Delingpol, The Telegraph - who also calls the RSPCA "gloating animal rights freaks") and "Why I hate Squirrels" (Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail - apparently one bit his daughters thumb and drew blood) The newspapers seem to be outraged and are condemning the RSPCA for being too harsh on the poor man who drowned the squirrel who stole his nuts.

What worries me is the influence the press has on it's readers, for example, the story about the fox allegedly breaking in to a house and savaging two young children was splashed across the papers for days on end causing widespread hysteria. Nobody has conclusive proof that it was a fox that did this, yet a fox seen nearby was destroyed. What is the general public going to think now? Foxes and squirrels are pests and must be killed on sight?

I have had a look at the reasons people think Grey Squirrels are to be "pests" and here is what I came up with:

* They are not native to Britain but were introduced from America and have now become widespread (surely the squirrel isn't to blame for this?)
* Some people see them as nothing more than tree rats (I think they are very cute)
* They cause damage to young trees (I couldn't find out how they managed to do this)
* They raid bird tables and dig holes to hide food they have stolen (perhaps people should put a notice by bird tables telling the squirrel, rats and any other animals that the food is for BIRDS ONLY!)
* They climb or leap across from trees on to the roofs of houses and tear up insulation for their nests and chew timber and strip insulation off electric cables (I've never heard of this happening to anyone before)
* They apparently steal bird eggs as well, but if you think about it quite a few animals do this and escape being labelled a pest. Some birds even throw out another birds eggs, lay their own in place and trick the other bird into caring for their eggs!

People used to blame Grey Squirrels for the decline in the Red Squirrel population but the furore around this died down as both species lived together in harmony for around 20 years before the Reds started to die out. It seems that the Greys are simply stronger and able to adapt more which has given them the upper hand. Reds are still around and seem to fare better in the conifer woods of Scotland. Unfortunately the newspapers are once again alleging that Grey Squirrels are once again to blame for this, which is completely inaccurate.

If you see a squirrel please don't view it as a pest, watch it twitch its nose and scuttle up a nearby tree. Watch how it delicately holds a nut in its hands and nibble it whilst nervously looking around for nearby threats. Surely it has as much right to go about its daily life as any other wild animal? If one should help itself to your bird food against your will, knock on the window to scare it off - don't drown it.

More about squirrels.

If you agree or disagree please let me know, I would love to hear your opinions.
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