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SQUIRREL

NATURE IN CONTROL

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Information about the Red and Grey Squirrel

There are two species of squirrel in the UK; red squirrels and grey squirrels. Populations are currently estimated at approximately 140,000 red squirrels and 2.5 million grey squirrels. Red squirrels are our native species and have lived in the UK for around 10,000 years, Grey squirrels were introduced to the UK from North America by the Victorians in the 1800s, the first record of them escaping and establishing a wild population is 1876.

There are an estimated 140,000 red squirrels in the UK, compared with more than two million greys.

When squirrels find a place to nest, this becomes their ‘territory’, and they will protect their territory at all costs. Especially when they have young in the nest. This means they can become very agitated and even aggressive when disturbed. There is a common miss-conception that if the animal’s entry hole is blocked this will remove the problem. This, unfortunately, is not the case.

Do not block entry holes until squirrel pest control infestation is completely removed.

By blocking the hole the adults can no longer reach their nest, and often their young. This will do the opposite of deterring them, encouraging an attack on any blocking work. If they are unsuccessful in getting through it, they will attack fascia boards until they are successful. We have seen this happen numerous times and often this can result in hundreds or even thousands of pounds worth of damage.

Squirrels are a pest, they are non-native and were originally brought over to the country in 1876 in the Cheshire area by the Victorians, it is thought that they were introduced because the Victorians wanted to liven up the woodland and make it more interesting to look at. They were completely unaware of the destruction they can cause and their negative effect on the native red squirrel.

The Red Squirrel

is our native squirrel and is most often found in coniferous woods. Red squirrels feast on hazelnuts by cracking the shell in half. You may also find pine cones that have been nibbled, leaving what looks like an apple core behind. Red squirrels make a rough nest, called a 'drey' out of twigs, leaves and strips of bark in the fork of a branch, high up in the tree canopy. Breeding begins in winter and carries on through spring. Males chase females through the tree canopy, leaping across branches and spiralling up tree trunks. Females may have two litters of two to three young a year.

How to identify

The red squirrel has a reddish-brown coat and pale underside. It has a characteristically bushy tail. It is easily distinguished from the grey squirrel by its smaller size, red fur and distinctive, large ear tufts.

Distribution

Found in Scotland, the Lake District and Northumberland; isolated, remnant populations further south in England and Wales, including Formby, Anglesey, Brownsea Island in Dorset, and the Isle of Wight.

Did you know?

Red squirrels do not hibernate, but they do keep stores of food to see them through difficult times when fresh food is not available. In their favoured habitats of mixed broadleaf and coniferous woodland, they have a source of food all year-round as pine seeds are present over the winter months.

Red squirrels and their dreys (resting places) receive full protection under Schedules 5 and 6 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

The Grey Squirrel

was introduced into the UK in the 1800s. It provides an easy encounter with wildlife for many people, but can be damaging to woodlands and has contributed to the decline of the red squirrel.

One of our most familiar mammals, the grey squirrel can be found in woods, gardens and parks across town and country, and often proves to be very tame. It is a frequent visitor to gardens with bird tables and feeders, becoming a pest for many bird-lovers. Grey squirrels feast on hazelnuts by cracking the shell in half. You may also find pine cones that have been nibbled, leaving what looks like an apple core behind. They will cache their food in autumn if it is abundant. Grey squirrels make a rough nest, called a 'drey' out of twigs, leaves and strips of bark in the fork of a branch, high up in the tree canopy. Females may have two litters of three to four young a year.

How to identify

The grey squirrel has a silver-grey coat, with a brownish face and feet, and pale underside. It has a characteristically bushy tail. It is easily distinguished from the Red Squirrel by its larger size, grey fur, and smaller ears without tufts.

Distribution

Widespread in England, Wales and central Scotland.

Did you know?

Grey squirrels are renowned for their agility, adept climbing and cunning - they can crack open bird feeders and run along tight-rope washing lines to get at their nutty prize.

Grey squirrels don't receive any formal protection (other than through animal welfare legislation)...

GREY SQUIRREL CONTROL

As a pest it is illegal for pest controllers to catch and release grey squirrels, they have to be dispatched. We use the most humane methods to remove all pest problems including squirrel infestations. 

Drey Poking

At different times of the year the control of squirrels can take different forms. With the leaf off the trees, winter is a good time for shooting.

Drey poking can be effective, especially on cold winter days,. A team of four, with two working the poles and two covering the tree, can spend a day clearing a lot of dreys in a wood. When all the dreys are cleared from a wood in winter, it becomes easy to spot new ones made in the summer.

There are a few rules you must adhere to when carrying out this activity. Safety is paramount; Guns should stand well back from the tree. When using the poles, tap the bottom of the drey gently; this will allow the squirrel to run out slowly. It will probably stop just outside which will give the guns time to shoot. Never shoot at a squirrel running down a tree, it is better to either let it run down and run away from you or stop it and turn it back up the tree. Remember you are aiming to cull squirrels, so be efficient and effective.

This method is only one part of a fully effective control programme, as grey squirrels killed at this time of the year will often be replaced by others before the summer.

Tunnel trapping using spring traps

Spring traps are a very useful tool in catching squirrels. Set correctly, these traps will effectively catch squirrels moving between trees. Look for the signs of squirrel movement; a common sight is the flat circle around the base of the tree where squirrels run around sometimes chasing each other.

The law and best practice requires you to:

  • Use the appropriate, approved spring trap for your quarry.

  • Enclose your trap within a natural or artificial tunnel.

  • Firmly anchor your trap.

  • Check your traps at least once a day.

All traps should be set in accordance with BASC’s trapping pest mammals code of practice.

Tunnel trapping using spring traps

Live cage traps, either single or multi-catch, involve attracting squirrels to a trap with a bait (food). These can be used in the same way as spring traps. Set them at the base of trees and cover with logs. It is best to pre-bait these traps, leaving the entrances open so that the squirrels can run freely for a few days before setting.

The density of traps required depends on whether single or multi- capture traps are used.

Single traps should be spaced 75-125m apart, multi-traps 150-200m apart, equating to one trap per ha. In areas where it is difficult to draw squirrels to the ground, for example pine mixtures or where traps are disturbed by badgers, deer or wild boar, it may be necessary to site traps on platforms on the trees.

Captured squirrels should be humanely destroyed by guiding them to one end of the trap, where they can be killed with an air rifle, or the traps can be emptied into a sack and the squirrels dispatched through a swift, heavy blow to the head. Non-target species should be released immediately.

Shooting

Shooting of grey squirrels can be a very effective method of control, especially in early spring when young shoots are showing in trees. On a sunny day grey squirrels will work in the outmost branches of a tree, chewing the new shoots and can present an easy target.

A shotgun or powerful air rifle would be suitable for this form of control but remember, as with all shooting, assess your background before taking any shot. If in doubt, don’t shoot. A rimfire rifle would be more suitable for shooting squirrels on the ground around the base of a tree where a safe backstop is provided.

Warfarin poisoning

The EU licence for the production and sale of warfarin as a grey squirrel bait ended on 30 September 2014. Manufacturers and stockists are no longer able to sell warfarin to control grey squirrels.

Disposal of carcasses

Unless you intend to eat them, all dead squirrels should be deeply buried or incinerated. Any carcasses showing signs of squirrel pox virus (scabs around eyes, nose, mouth and feet) should be sent to the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) for investigation. Gloves should be worn when handling potentially infected animals.

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