Grey squirrel war 'far from over'

GREY squirrels are being dealt with so quickly that they could be totally gone in Northumberland at some point this Summer, claims the head of a red squirrel group.

Lord Rupert Redesdale, Chairman of the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership in the County which is funded by DEFRA, recently made the claim in the House of Lords when the issue of releasing grey squirrels into the wild was discussed.

He said: "In the past two-and-a-half weeks, we have taken out more than 1,200 squirrels. It is quite possible that Northumberland will be totally free of grey squirrels by the middle of the Summer.".

At a A Save our Squirrels and Castle Morpeth Council Red Squirrel Conference held in October last year he said the aim was to rid Northumberland of greys by the end of 2009.

Grey squirrels carry with them the squirrel pox virus, which is fatal to reds, and they have caused a dramatic drop in the number of reds in the County and UK.

This means it is illegal to release grey squirrels back into the wild once they have been caught and it can only be done if a person or organisation obtains a licence.

But Lord Redesdale's comments were not welcomed by Norris Atthey, who runs the Ulgham Red Squirrels volunteer group, as he believes talk of getting rid of the greys completely is very premature.

"His claim that the greys will be gone in Northumberland this Summer is 100 percent wrong.

"They are still being spotted in rural areas across the County and there is no indication that the problem is totally under control. He must also take into account that not enough measures are being taken South of the Tyne to prevent grey squirrels coming through to where we live.

"My concern about his comments is that I don't want people thinking the problem has been solved as they could stop their efforts to trap grey squirrels," he said.

Mr Atthey also said the public would be helped if grey squirrel traps had the legal information about releasing greys into the wild displayed on the boxes they come in.