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Red squirrel, grey squirrel ~ by Lewis

Red squirrel, grey squirrel

Britain has two types of squirrel, but only one of them – the red squirrel – is actually native to the country. The grey squirrel was introduced into the UK about 130 years ago. There are now some 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK, compared to 160,000 native red squirrels.

The majority of the red squirrels are now found in Scotland, Wales and North East England, with smaller populations in places like the Isle of Wight and Norfolk (Thetford Chase).  The distribution of squirrels in Ireland may be seen here .  The number of red squirrels has fallen dramatically as it has lost out in competition with the grey squirrel, in terms of young (kittens) produced; certainly this is true in deciduous broadleaved woodland and forest. This may be associated with the red squirrel not being able to digest acorns (often plentiful in such habitats).

There is also a marked difference in foraging behaviour between the two squirrels; the grey squirrels spend much more time on the woodland floor than the red squirrels (and they tend to raid the red squirrels stores!). It has been estimated that only one red squirrel in six lives as long as a year.

One place in the UK where the red squirrel survives in native broadleaved woodland is on the Isle of Wight; here the grey squirrel is kept at bay.

Red squirrels are at home amongst Hazel, Beech, Scots and Corsican Pine, Sweet Chestnut and Wild Cherry, where their main food is the nuts and seeds, although they will also eat flowers and shoots from trees; and even forage for mushrooms and fungi. They are most likely to experience food shortages in early summer, when the current year’s fruits and seeds are forming.

The parapox virus and the loss of woodland and forest may also have contributed to the decline of red squirrels over the last few decades. Fortunately, the red squirrel is included in the National Biodiversity Action Plan and there are a number of initiativesto help and protect local populations.

Red Squirrel week this year is 30th September to the 8th October. If you can help with sightings of red squirrel, then visit the Wildlife Trusts.

Posted in: Flora & Fauna, Pests & Diseases ~ On: 26 September, 2006

56 comments so far

28 March, 2007

I didn’t know they flourish on the Isle of Wight – I’m going there in a couple of weeks, will try and get some photos.

Hallvord R. M. Steen
4 April, 2007

In Norway as far as we know we only have red squirrels. They don’t tend to live in cities and parks like the U.K. ones though, so we see them much more rarely.

The Woodlands.co.uk Blog » Squirrel pox
17 May, 2007

[…] reported in the woodlands blog last year, the red squirrel population in the UK is under threat. One of the threats is the parapox virus. […]

28 September, 2007

Please could u add infomation on why there is compitition between the two and what dod they do????????????????????


Matthew Allen
27 January, 2008

Thanks for the information, but why were they introduced into Britain. And how?

Craig Marx
12 February, 2008

I am an American who has been living in New England
my entire life.I believe the Gray Squirrel was a Yank like me. We here have both Gray and Red Squirrels living together in our forrest. There are a lot more Grays then Reds. I do not believe the unfortunate introduction of the Gray Squirrel into your enviroment will make the Red Squirrel dissappear altogether. You will just have less of them.

Paul Robinson
4 March, 2008

How where the grey squirrels adapted to the U.K? The reason Why? Please give answer, i need this for my cousework..

Thanks ~Paul~

Paul Robinson
4 March, 2008

How did they come across to the U.K like how did they actually get over? And the population grow rapidly so quickly?

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, black squirrel ... | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
30 May, 2008

[…] had to worry about the impact of the imported grey squirrel on our native red squirrel (see blog http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/  ).  However, it now seems there is another player on the scene: the black squirrel.   Whereas red […]

5 June, 2008

We are doing a project on red and grey squirrels, we need to know how and why the greys were introduced to Britian in the first place.
Any info no this?

Chow chow

How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK? | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
6 June, 2008

[…] is an answer to all those questions on the Red squirrel, grey squirrel blog asking about the introduction of grey […]

12 June, 2008

Hi, It is a commonly held belief that the grey squirrel was responsible for the decline of the red squirrel. Man played his part in this decline.
Long before the grey squirrel came onto the scene we were destroying their habitat. Our navy’s warships were made of wood and we cut it down. By the mid seventeen hundreds red squirrels were believed to be extinct in Scotland and this had nothing to do with the greys. They didn’t fare much better in England but there was worse to come. By the early nineteen hundreds competition for wood, between men and red squirrels was becoming intense and now we had guns. We formed squirrel clubs and encouraged our members to shoot red squirrels. We handed out free cartridges and payed bounty for red tails. Famously by nineteen thirty two, the Highland Squirrel Club (google it) were boasting of eighty thousand red squirrels, shot. Nowadays there is a tendency to say, “Hey, look what the grey squirrels have done! Let’s shoot them.” Does anyone know why there are no beavers left?

13 June, 2008

Thanks – fascinating! I’d heard of organised culls of grey squirrels in the 1930s but not reds (it didn’t work with the greys because neighbouring colonies just moved in). It seems the red squirrel had pretty much died out in the Highlands, then Lady Lovat re-introduced them in 1844 to her estate. Then when they were judged to have been too successful, they were shot in large numbers. With the largest number being shot on the Lovat estate!

You might be interested to know that the Scottish Wildlife Trust has just got the go-ahead from the Scottish Parliament to reintroduce the European Beaver to Scotland. They had been hunted to extinction for their fur by the 16th century. Does an animal still count as native if it hasn’t lived in a country for 400 years?

3 August, 2008

It seems a reasonable supposition that the people who introduced the eastern grey squirrel to Great Britain did it for the same sort of reason that they introduced non-native plants – they thought they would enhance their estates.

The major reason for the decline of the European red squirrel in Great Britain is probably habitat destruction – they like pine forests – but the grey squirrel doesn’t help. Greys are twice the size of reds (up to 800g versus up to 400g) and are less discriminating about what they eat – it is said that they will eat new acorns, for example, whereas red squirrels like mature acorns, which they won’t find if the greys have eaten them all before they reach maturity. Grey squirrels are also immune to squirrelpox but they carry it and will infect red squirrels with it where the populations co-exist.

yo yo
23 September, 2008

how they adapt

4 November, 2008

I live in Aberdeen and have just had a regular visitor to my garden of a grey squirrel,and having read some comments of the damage they will cause, how is the best way to deter the visitor?



roley joy
12 January, 2009

During or just after the last war grey squrils tails were 1 shilling each so why dont we ask the public with gund to shoot the greys squrils so whats the problem in this modern age we should be able to find a way to whipe them out.I have shot many in my area and I soon found the numbers deminishing thats in one small area so dont anyone tell me we can control is a problem.

15 January, 2009


can you tell me how the grey squirrels are more successful in the deciduous woodland than the red squirrels

thanks =D

Dylan Sprouse
22 January, 2009

Hi i am Dylan and i had this as a report when i was in year 10 at school well actually i was home schooled but still

Dear Caitlyn

they are more successful because they are bigger stronger and have a better understanding of the environment they are in.
I hope that answers your question.

Chloe ++ Lucyy
29 January, 2009

how manyy red squirrels are there in the worlddd????

8 February, 2009

I need to know how the grey squirrels were introduced into the UK. The article just says that they were released into Henbury Park, Cheshire and that is it. I need to actually know HOW they were introduced into the UK. Please can someone reply as soon as possible?!?!?!



8 February, 2009

Oops forgot to mention, I need this for some science coursework so if anyone would be so kind as to give me an answer I would be very grateful.



2 March, 2009

Can You Tell Me Why And Gow They Were Introduced Into The U.K ?

Cheers .

mary hutchison
5 April, 2009

theirs grey squirrels where i work in ayrshire and its a rarety here to see any squirrels i dont know if i have the heart to report them what would happen to them.

23 October, 2009

How did the grey squirrels here, did someone bring them if so from where?
Please answer I need to know for some homework i’m doing!


30 October, 2009

Grey squirrel (sciurus carolinensis) are native to the eastern coast of North America (that is the east side of the USA and Canada, they are known as eastern grey squirrels over there because there is also a western grey squirrel which isn’t the same species (google is your friend if you are really interested in all this). Someone, I don’t know who, must have brought them in cages on a ship from either the US or Canada (since they were introduced before the invention of the aeroplane).

Seasons: Autumn Display at Oaters Wood | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
31 December, 2009

[…] As you walk down the track further into the woods you get a sense of peace and tranquillity. A grey squirrel made its’ appearance  – but perhaps suffered from a mild case of stage fright and decided to high tail it out of there. Maybe another day … In the meantime, please read the blog by Mike posted on 26 September 2006 about some interesting facts on the red and grey squirrel. http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/ […]

lynda lowe
25 April, 2010

How do Red /Grey squirrels adapt to their environment?

27 April, 2010

“How do Red /Grey squirrels adapt to their environment?”

Same way as any other creature, they wake up, wander about, find stuff to eat, have a rest, find more stuff to eat and then find a safe place to sleep. Repeat.

Grey squirrels have learned to live in towns, they aren’t as shy as red squirrels (when I was about 17, sitting on the floor in a room with an open door to the outside world, quietly reading, a grey squirrel came in and ran up my arm to my shoulder – a red squirrel would never do that) you can see them in parks and on roadside verges a few feet away from passers-by. Because they are bolder than red squirrels, the greys have found new niches in which to survive, the reds have retreated, sticking to things they know.

TOP 5: Squirrels. « TOP FIVE
11 May, 2010

[…] TOP 5: Squirrels. 12/05/2010 tags: cute, photography, squirrels, wildlife by thefty Red squirrels are native to Britain. Grey squirrels are not. However, the reds are getting their butts kicked by the shifty little greys. Read this. […]

Dick Glasgow
15 August, 2010

I have enjoyed reading your Squirrel articles, so I have posted a link to your site on the new ‘Red Squirrel Forum’.

6 September, 2010

thnx. this really helped with my homework =)

stranger to u all!! :?
2 March, 2011

what about grey squirrels??
I sort of need more about them for my homework!! :(

10 June, 2011

can u pleae add more infomation aboout the grey squirrel??

15 June, 2011

Grey squirrels taste much better than the red ones too – the reds have hardly any meat, and are quite lean – Greys have a bit more fat on them – great in a stew.

3 September, 2011

It’s the grey squirrels turn to be the focus of hunting at the moment. Remember that the red squirrels was just as disliked and hunted practically to extinction, as were Otters. In my childhood I remember the local Otter hunt, whose ambition was to wipe out all the local otters. They succeeded too. Any animal that could have been hunted in Britain, has been. We wiped out wolves and bears. I think this has more to do with mankinds desire to hunt and kill, rather than any real reason to do so.

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, black squirrel … | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
4 October, 2011

[…] had to worry about the impact of the imported grey squirrel on our native red squirrel (see blog http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/  ).  However, it now seems there is another player on the scene: the black squirrel.   Whereas […]

How did the grey squirrel arrive in the UK? | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
4 October, 2011

[…] grey squirrel arrive in the UK? ~ by catherine Here is an answer to all those questions on the Red squirrel, grey squirrel blog asking about the introduction of grey […]

6 October, 2011

Hi hope you dont mind me asking, I have just taken up falconry and got my first harris hawk, and I am looking for woodland to fly him,in east sussex, I am in the lewis area.
many thanks

22 November, 2011

I am doing science homework and 1 questions I cannot find are how did the Gray squirrel spread over time?


22 November, 2011

see http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/flora-and-fauna/red-squirrels-in-scotland/
quote “Grey squirrels were introduced into parks in the UK in the 19th century and are able to make effective use of a variety of foodstuffs, such as acorns, that are indigestible to red squirrels.
Their larger size and higher reproductive rate also help greys outcompete reds for food and habitat, but most ominously, greys carry the Squirrel Poxvirus. This has no effect on the carrier grey squirrel, but is rapidly and painfully fatal to any red squirrel that contracts it from the grey population. Fortunately, not all greys carry the virus and so far, those tested in North East Scotland have been virus free, but the danger is still there.”

see also the competitive exclusion principle

25 November, 2011

before the grey squirrels were introduced to the UK how many Red Squirrels were there?
I need this for my coursework and the internet isn’t very useful tells me how many are around today but not how many Red Squirrels there were before


25 November, 2011

The numbers seem to have fluctuated – some information here

25 November, 2011

Thank you that really helped

25 November, 2011

Many small mammals undergo ‘cyclical’ fluctuations in numbers – voles etc

Red squirrel, grey squirrel, black squirrel … | The Woodlands.co.uk Blog
5 February, 2012

[…] had to worry about the impact of the imported grey squirrel on our native red squirrel (see blog http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/conservation/red-squirrel-grey-squirrel/  ).  However, it now seems there is another player on the scene: the black squirrel.   Whereas […]

2 April, 2012

I heard that grey squirrels and Red squirrels can not reproduce together.
Gotta say, that for several years now, a Western gray squirrel and some (Red squirrel) here in my Tualatin Oregon, USA neighborhood seem to have successfully created an ongoing racial get together. No one told them they couldn’t hook up and create a new type of squirrel.
Quite the variety of off spring expressions. They seem to be doing fine, barring the occasional argument with tires. So far, about a half a dozen of em so far as I can tell. Wonder why the ones in the UK aren’t doing this? Failure to communicate due to accent differences? :)

2 July, 2012

Ther are a number of myths about the red squirrel being posted in the comments.

Myth – red squirrels were already in decline when the grey arrived
Fact – red squirrel numbers were increasing when the grey arrived. They declined long before the grey’s introduction but new woodland planting increased numbers and by 1900 there was a thriving population. Human persecution started after 1900.

Myth – red squirrels prefer conifer woodland
Fact – red squirrels do not prefer conifers over broadleaved. They are confined to conifers by the grey squirrel, but habitat preference plays no part.

Myth – human persecution wiped out the red
Fact – human persecution certainly didn’t help but it was not the main cause. The highland squirrel club killed 80,000, but while this is a big number, this was spread out over a period of 30 years, amounting to a relatively low number of 2666 per year, which probably wasn’t enough to wipe them out.

The decline of the red squirrel was caused mostly by the grey squirrel. Today, the grey squirrel is the only serious threat which remains. Blaming the current situation on habitat loss and persecution is little more than a convenient excuse to argue against a cull of greys. Habitat destruction is irrelevant today as woodland has more than doubled since 1900 and is still increasing. Human persecution stopped long ago as well. The grey squirrel is indisputably the main threat.

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