The grey squirrel is perhaps one of the most commonly seen of British mammals being highly visible in parks, gardens and woodlands. This, in combination with its large eyes and bushy tail, often make it an attractive and popular animal in the public eye.
Grey squirrels are, however, a serious pest and the bane of woodland managers across Britain. They strip the bark of young trees, which can severely reduce their growth, increase susceptibility to disease, cause dieback of stems and branches (often a safety hazard in public spaces), and can kill trees; especially when the bark is stripped right around a stem. They also eat song bird eggs and have driven out the red squirrel from its native range.
The species, that some now regard as a ‘tree rat’, was introduced to Britain by the Victorians about 130 years ago. It is more aggressive than Britain’s native red squirrel, which has been squeezed further and further north in the country. Greys also carry squirrel parapoxivirus or ‘squirrel pox’, to which they seem resistant, but which is fatal to reds. The IUCN has listed the Grey Squirrel in the top 100 globally worse invasive species (source).
According to the Forestry Commission there are 2.5 million grey squirrels in Britain but only 140,000 surviving red squirrels. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust is working hard to promote the survival of the red squirrel by advocating targeted control of the grey squirrel, and has attracted a lot of support and media interest in its work. If you live in Cumbria, Northumberland or other remaining strongholds of the red squirrel in Britain you can get involved in the RSST’s work in these areas.
If you are wondering what can be done with all the grey squirrels that need to be culled, there is a growing interest in it as bushmeat. British woodlander Ben Law writes in his book, The Woodland Way, that the secret is to marinate the meat overnight and then casserole it slowly in wine, garlic and sage. Other recipes include roasting, barbecued strips and squirrel pie. I have eaten grey squirrel myself once, and although it was palatable, it was psychologically tough with “tree rat” echoing around my mind with every chewy mouthful. Advice on butchering squirrels and other recipes are provided by the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. Enjoy!