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Ethical and sustainable conservation can’t be achieved with endangered animals in hunters’ cross-hairs Partner content
By Earl Russell
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Woodland destruction, predators and disease - red squirrel decline is a tough nut to crack

3 min read

With 3.5million grey squirrels in the UK against just 140,000 red squirrels, it follows that where there are live grey squirrels, there will be dead reds, says Trudy Harrison MP. 

Time is running out to protect red squirrels - the beautiful iconic creatures are at real risk of extinction.

The decline of the red squirrel from an estimated 2.5 million over a hundred years ago to the latest count, records 140,000 squirrels across the UK, with just 15,000 left in England.

And we need to take action now, join with campaigners to help their survival.

I am lucky to live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. My Copeland constituency is home to St Herbert’s Island on Derwentwater, Keswick, which is where Beatrix Potter describes the home of Squirrel Nutkin in the classic children’s tale.

In Cumbria we are just about retaining our red squirrel stronghold thanks to the dedication of volunteer conservation groups like the West Lakes Squirrel Initiative who I have been proud to support.

They work tirelessly, giving up hours of their own time and spending their own money because they are determined to be part of the greatest revival. I commend their efforts, in all weathers, against the odds.

It is widely agreed, by scientists, government departments, wildlife trusts and conservationists that grey squirrels and red squirrels cannot co-habit.

The grey squirrel out competes our native red for habitat, food and reproduction. Grey squirrels carry the squirrel pox virus but have developed immunity. It takes just one grey squirrel to infiltrate a red squirrel community and that disease will tear through the entire red population with devastating consequences.

The first signs of squirrel pox are scabs around the face, then blistered eyes, then the ears will wither leaving the helpless animal to die a painful death of hypothermia, starvation or predation.

Red squirrels do not recover from squirrel pox, they always die. And it always follows that where there are live grey squirrels, there will be dead reds.

It is now estimated that we have 3.5million grey squirrels living in the UK, against just 140,000 red squirrels. 

Thankfully in life there are people who refuse to accept defeat and persevere in their mission to help and protect - groups such as the West Lakes Squirrel Initiative in my constituency.

This is a tragic tale of human intervention of bounties, woodland destruction, predation and disease.

But there is hope, if we act quickly.

I am holding a Westminster Hall debate today on the subject of red squirrel extinction to raise awareness of this very real issue and ask for a plethora of Government interventions in supporting the volunteer red squirrels conservation groups.


Trudy Harrison is Conservative MP for Copeland. 

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