Despite the fact that British citizens have done much good work towards to conservation of wildlife and wilderness in the world, we have been less successful in the UK. Having largely eradicated a small arboreal predator from much of the UK, we then decided to introduce the grey squirrel from the USA.
Spending more time on the ground, and being far less agile than their red smaller cousins, grey squirrels cannot coexist with pine martens.
Given that grey squirrels also carry squirrels pox which does not kill them, but does kill red squirrels that they have contact with, pine martens have belatedly been recognized as the best tool with which to reverse the damaging spread of grey squirrels.
So why are grey squirrels damaging? Well apart from killing our native reds, they do significant damage to trees – a bill of which can run to £14 million just for the timber industry. Perhaps higher (but harder to calculate) grey squirrel damage to trees, is also hindering our ability to replant forests, as the trees get destroyed before they can get fully established.
This is a problem, not only for climate change mitigation, but also because this tree planting, is to aid in the recovery of ecosystems under threat.
The idea that we could allow a native endangered animal to become re-established and thereby save another native animal, and in the process eradicate an animal that is non-native and is damaging our ecosystem seems the simplest decision in the world.
Thankfully, these animals are starting to recover. This is not the only program that is being undertaken in Wales, and as this population recovers, it is likely to quickly push grey squirrels out of Wales. A similar move in Ireland, allowed the virtually complete eradication of grey squirrels, and I certainly hope that we can follow suit over the next few decades. The pine martens that have been reintroduced, have already been seen to be eating grey squirrels – which is likely to reduce pressure on local red squirrels.
Bring on similar reintroductions in southern England