Grey Squirrels Acquitted?


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From the book "The Grey Squirrel" by A M Middleton
"Red squirrels appear to have been very numerous throughout the whole of Great Britain from about 1890 to 1900 (or later in some districts); but there is no reason to suppose that they had been continually in a state of abundance in England before that time, and in Scotland we know they were practically extinct for a time about 1820 - so much so that it seems to have been necessary to reintroduced them from England to keep the stock going. But whatever troubles hampered them at the beginning of the last century; they were certainly at a very high peak in numbers by the end of it; in many of the Scottish pine forests, and to a lesser extent in England they became an absolute pest, destroying thousands of young trees.  Then things began to go wrong with them.From 1903 to 1914 epidemic disease was rife among the squirrel population of southern England; in Hampshire, for example, large numbers were found dead and dying in 1904 and a great reduction in their numbers was apparent. The same sort of thing happened in Devon, Wales, Kent, Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucester, Norfolk, and southern Scotland - in fact all over the country - the actual date of the pronounced decrease varying somewhat in different localities, but nearly always falling between 1903 and 1916, and generally occurring earlier in the south than in the north.  The result was a widespread decrease in the numbers of red squirrels throughout the whole country, both where greys had been introduced and where they had never been heard of, so that by about 1920 they were rarely seen in the southern part of England except in a few favoured localities, and even then nothing like their former numbers.  In the North of Scotland their decline was not so violent at any one time, although a marked decrease did occur about 1910-1912; by 1930, however, very few squirrels were to be seen even in such historic strongholds as the forests of Speyside.  In most parts of Ireland, also, disease was common during the same period, and violent reductions in the squirrel population were noted.
Apart from the fact that disease was observed to be the direct cause of many of the local reductions in numbers, the decrease of red squirrels alike in areas where the grey squirrels were and were not present leaves little doubt that the grey can be acquitted of being the main cause of the disappearance of the red. There is a possibility that the grey may act as a carrier of some disease to which it is itself immune but which may have fatal effects on reds in this country; if such were the case one would expect the red to die out first in districts where the grey was first introduced, and last in those areas furtherest from the introduction points but some of the earliest cases of the disease in Devonshire and Hampshire were far from any early introductions of grey squirrels, while in Lincolnshire and Norfolk, not so very far from the Woburn centre, the red squirrel survived until a much later date (about 1914 -1916). In Ireland there were many instances of disease and reduction in the red squirrel population before the greys had appeared in the country at all; in the island of Jersey where red squirrels were introduced in 1885, they decreased in numbers from 1925 onwards, but no greys have been imported into the Channel Islands at any time.

Other causes to which the decline of the red squirrel has been attributed are the felling of woodlands and the killing of squirrels by man but neither of these have appeared to be sufficiently potent over the whole country to account for the great decrease that has taken place."

Angus Macmillan
Meikle Boturich
near Balloch
G83 8LX
Tel. 01389 756424
Fax. 01389 756723
Mob. 07836 548665


From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann