Red squirrel fighter calls it a day over lack of support

Norris Athey of Forge Estate at Ulgham near Morpeth-fights to eradicate grey squirrels.
Norris Athey of Forge Estate at Ulgham near Morpeth-fights to eradicate grey squirrels.
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A FERVENT red squirrel campaigner has closed his Morpeth conservation group in frustration at a lack of support.

Norris Atthey set up Morpeth Red Squirrels to try to protect the native species by trapping and killing grey squirrels, which he believes will wipe out the reds by competing for food and spreading the deadly pox.

The Ulgham resident sometimes came into conflict with others over his strong belief in the need to rid the area of greys through culling, but vowed to carry on despite fears of a hate campaign against him when his vehicles were repeatedly vandalised.

Last year, he was taken to court by the RSPCA on a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal after telling the Herald that he had drowned a grey squirrel to show the method was humane and legal.

The case against him was dropped in January this year over a lack of evidence, and the 68-year-old remained fully committed to his cause.

Now in a shock move he has decided to close his group because he has become disillusioned, but he still believes that the red squirrel could disappear from Northumberland if no decisive action is taken.

“I’m grateful to the volunteers who have helped me out, but I have become dismayed with the apathy of the general public towards red squirrels,” said Mr Atthey.

“Added to this, the independent organisations that are doing their best are not getting the support they need from the larger bodies, who are only interested in maintaining their power.

“The writing is on the wall and unless a lot of funding can be brought in to pay the required dedicated trappers and more landowners give their full support, I’m convinced that reds will disappear from Northumberland.”

Since Morpeth Red Squirrels began in 2008 volunteers have trapped hundreds of grey squirrels within the area.

A meeting has been called next week by Northern Red Squirrels to try to set up a replacement group and anyone interested in taking part in red squirrel conservation is urged to attend.

Volunteer Sally Hardy said: “Over the years, Norris has done a marvellous job keeping grey squirrels at bay in the area and has practically single-handedly kept reds alive in Morpeth.

“It’s a shame that his group has closed, but hopefully others will now step up and do their bit as it’s vital that the community comes together to get behind their red squirrels.

“People can contribute in a variety of ways, from putting out traps and organising fund-raising events to handing out leaflets, helping out at stalls and keeping records of squirrel sightings.”

The meeting will take place at Longhirst Hall on Saturday, December 10, from 10am. To book a place telephone 07878 061880 or email sally@northernredsquirrels.org.uk