Squirrel conference highlights grey threat

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PAXTON House hosted more than 60 landowners and conservationists this week as they met to discuss the growing threat of the grey squirrel across Europe.

Speaking at the Red Squirrel Cross Border Conference, George Farr, chairman of the European Squirrel Initiative, warned of the increased numbers of grey squirrels that have been reported throughout the United Kingdom during 2012, and the threat they posed to the native red squirrel as well as other flora and fauna.

“The grey squirrel is a significant and growing threat here in the UK,” he said. “We welcome the work being done by the various red squirrel groups to help control the grey and protect the red and it is extremely gratifying that in the north of England and southern Scotland we are seeing real progress.

“However we must not become complacent as the relentless march of the grey continues,” he continued, “More must be done to stop it.”

He went on to reiterate the dangerous effects of squirrel pox on the native species.

“The greatest threat to the red squirrel in Scotland comes from squirrel pox infected greys,” he said.

“The presence of the disease speeds up the decline of reds by up to 20 times – and reds have no resistance. It is critical that we stop infected greys spreading further north into Scotland,” he added.

The conference, chaired by Janet Wickens, chief executive of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, was organised by Red Squirrels South Scotland in conjunction with Red Squirrels Northern England.

Delegates heard of the important role that volunteers play in saving reds and of the considerable progress that is being made in red squirrel conservation involving a co-ordinated and joined up approach across the voluntary sector, with support from Government agencies in England and Scotland.

“Grey squirrel control is paramount, particularly with squirrel pox infected greys spreading further into Scotland,” concluded Mr Farr.

“We must ensure that landowners, game keepers, volunteers and government agencies all play their part in controlling grey squirrels, allowing reds to return and thrive.”

The Paxton estate was the scene of an amazing recovery in the red squirrel population earlier this year.

After being almost entirely wiped out by squirrel pox at the start of the year, reds had returned to the area by April.