Woods for conservation and enjoyment

You are here: Home > Blog > Flora & Fauna > How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK?

Print this page

How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK? ~ by catherine

How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK?

Here is an answer to all those questions on the Red squirrel, grey squirrel blog asking about the introduction of grey squirrels!

Grey squirrels (Scirius caroliniensis) are native to North America and were first released in the UK in 1876 in Henbury Park, Cheshire.  It’s not clear why they were introduced and the Victorians had no idea of the risks of introducing non-native species.  Perhaps they were just a decorative and interesting “exotic” in the park; part of the fashion for collecting that the Victorians enjoyed so much.  

There were further introductions around the country and it wasn’t long before it became clear that they had taken to their new home like a duck to water (or a squirrel to trees).  Within the space of 25 years, for instance, grey squirrels had colonised an area of some 300 miles between Argyll and Stirlingshire in Scotland.

Although they are bigger and have a reputation for being aggressive, they do not kill red squirrels and there is evidence that red squirrels were already on the decline because of loss of habitat and disease.  The greys have just taken up the space vacated by the reds.  The grey’s success (there are about 66 greys for every red) seems to be down to the fact that they are more successful in competing for food.  They are also prolific breeders with 2 litters a year of between 3 and 7 kits.  This is why extermination programs have not worked – clear the greys out of one area and the neighbouring colonies just move in.

Grey squirrels also carry the squirrel pox virus which, although it doesn’t seem to harm the greys, is a serious infection for red squirrels.

Current thinking on conservation for red squirrels is that the best route to boosting numbers is to encourage the habitats most suited to them.  The Forestry Commission is working in partnership with various conservation bodies including the Mammal Trust at Kielder Forest in Northumberland.

 


Posted in: Flora & Fauna ~ On: 6 June, 2008

14 comments so far

Ray Lee
22 June, 2008

It’s good to read your level-headed article on the grey squirrel. My opinion, not necessarily shared by everybody of course! is that the red squirrel is native and “cute”. I saw them in 1947 in Kent County, but are now extinct there. Perhaps the disappearance was due to grey squirrels but nobody knows…However, I don’t see that attempts to totally destroy the grey squirrel will succeed. A lot of people like them (including me). I like the red squirrel too, but won’t use it to symbolise any ignorance and anger in a long-running propaganda campaign for prejudice to an “alien” species introduced to this country a very long time ago.

Has anyone yet quantified, in cash terms, the effects of the destruction by the grey on timberlands? Has anyone quantified the effects on timber by the red squirrel, in the very unlikely event that should it become as frequent as the grey squirrel is presently? If people use the term “alien” as a reason for culling etc (much of which will be carried out by psychopathically-disordered persons, not authorised to carry out such a task) then we should include the Little Owl, stop rearing the alien pheasant for shooting (although it will still breed in the wild) and also turn our attention to certain plants and trees that were introduced.

It is in the nature of islands to lose endemic species- this has been well researched. We have developed a zoo mentality, where favourite animals (usually of the cuddly kind- not adders and creepy-crawlies)are protected at the expense of others.

I am for protecting the red squirrel on the basis that there is still hope to do so, but through a programme of common sense: in pockets or areas where this can be achieved. It can’t be a national success. The grey squirrel is here to stay for a very very long time. We should live with it.

R.

Mast and Mast Years | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
28 November, 2008

[…] The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), despite its name, is also partial to beech nuts.  Squirrels (both red and grey) feed on beech mast and acorns.  The breeding success of the dormouse and […]

Callum Price
11 April, 2010

I love red squirrels! It’s so disappointing to see that their numbers have dropped over the past years.

North London store criticised for selling squirrel meat - Page 3 - Stormfront
3 August, 2010

[…] out I was talking a load of old bollards, it was the victorians who let them loose in the UK. How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK? | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog That'll teach me for listening to people who think they know what they're talking […]

John
18 August, 2010

“I don’t see that attempts to totally destroy the grey squirrel will succeed.”

Try googling ‘passenger pigeon’ to see what humans can achieve when they put their minds to it.

You mention the damage grey squirrels do to forestry but do not mention the impact they have on wild birds, on whose eggs and nestlings they prey. That is the principal reason why I shoot them – 40 in 2007, 40 in 2008, 10 in 2009 and only five so far in 2010 (and those in January and February, none since) – a record which suggests that reducing their numbers and their eventual eradication from Great Britain is feasible.

Chris
21 September, 2010

Hi, its a great shame there not more Red Squirrels around the Uk, i actually live on the Isle of Wight where there are only Reds, we have no greys at all, they are so cute”….i think we are so lucky”.

Amber
26 January, 2011

Hi. I have red hair my self and do love red squirrels. I think i drive my class mates mad by going on about them. Birds, badgers, hedge hogs, (is that how you spell it?) they are all amazing.
I would love to feed a squirrel, my mum did once. I am going to the Isle of Wight Festival this year and will have to go on a walk afterwards to see a red squirrel. I have never seen one in real life! Any tips on where a good place is to go??
As for the shooting grey squirrels, i don’t agree at all with that, no matter what they have done, they don’t deserve to be shot!

Mast and Mast Years | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
28 February, 2011

[…] The hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius), despite its name, is also partial to beech nuts. Squirrels (both red and grey) feed on beech mast and acorns. The breeding success of the dormouse and […]

Davey
3 March, 2011

hi, im personally a huge fan of the sweet little red squirrels, they are alot cuter than those horrible big grey ones, they’re like rats, (except rats are more native). Red suirrels are alot more beautiful, and i do agree in shooting grey squirrels because they shouldn’t be here in the first place, im sure grey quirrels do not want to be shot… in that case they should go back too where they came from and stay there. I am hoping someone is thinking of a scheme to send them back, i wouldn’t mind them so much if i just found them where they belong, back in Northern America, i would probably find them alot sweeter, but i do not like the fact that they are wiping out our lovely NATIVE red ones!!!
:'(

PJC Consultancy
29 September, 2011

I have just wrote an article on the decline of Red squirrels, it is such a shame that these animals may no longer be apart a part of british heritage in time to come, along with the hedge hog who is in decline.

Reece
30 June, 2012

Actually, red squirrels were increasing when the grey arrived. They were once in decline due to habitat loss but during the 1800’s, new woodland planting helped them and numbers increased. By 1900 there was a thriving population.

Red squirrels declined between the early 1900s and the early 1930s due to disease – squirrel pox and coccidiosis I believe. Squirrel pox was brought here by grey squirrels.

Woodland area has more than doubled since 1900, when red squirrels were doing well. The grey squirrel is the main threat, not habitat loss.

Reece
30 June, 2012

Ray Lee,
“Perhaps the disappearance was due to grey squirrels but nobody knows”
Perhaps? More like undoubtedly. Grey squirrels out compete reds for food and spread Squirrel Pox virus which both wipe out red squirrel populations.
“If people use the term “alien” as a reason for culling etc (much of which will be carried out by psychopathically-disordered persons, not authorised to carry out such a task) then we should include the Little Owl, stop rearing the alien pheasant for shooting (although it will still breed in the wild) and also turn our attention to certain plants and trees that were introduced”
People who trap and kill grey squirrels are not “psychopathically-disordered” for wanting to take action to help native wildlife.
Little owls and pheasants do no harm to wildlife. In fact, pheasant keeping actually improves habitats for wildlife. A lot of rare and endangered wildlife will be found in relative abundance on shooting estates because of habitat management and predator control which is carried out to benefit pheasants.
Some alien species can live here without harming wildlife. The grey squirrel is not one of these cases.
“It is in the nature of islands to lose endemic species”
Natural extinctions do happen but the red squirrel is not declining due to natural causes. It is entirely a result of human interference. Nature didn’t start it. Nature shouldn’t finish it.
Amber,
“As for the shooting grey squirrels, i don’t agree at all with that, no matter what they have done, they don’t deserve to be shot”
We are not trying to punish the animals. We are trying to solve a problem which has been brought about by human interference.
Shooting and trapping are both humane methods of control. The animals are killed instantly with no suffering.

Bob Hollyman-Mawson
28 December, 2013

A few weeks ago I moved house from one area of Wales, GB, to another after suffering almost two years of sensory deprivation as a result of neighbours from hell. I have a small balcony; so threw a few nuts on it for the birds. The following morning, much to my delight, a grey squirrel appeared; so I continued to feed it and enjoy its antics and acrobatics. Then yesterday morning it was joined by its partner and they came again today. Their appearance has certainly made my Christmas!

Family time: Five creatures to spot on an autumn walk - The a2 Milk Company
23 October, 2014

[…] rapt with attention! The most common type of squirrel by far in the UK is the grey squirrel, a non-native species introduced to the UK during the Victorian era. If you live in Scotland, Ireland, or the Isle of Wight, however, you might be lucky enough to spot […]

Leave a comment

© 2014 Woodland Investment Management Ltd | Disclaimer | Contact us | Blog powered by WordPress