Grey squirrel has earned its right to be British

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From: Maureen Hunt, Woolley, Near Wakefield.

THE word “vermin” simply means “small animals especially rodents that are troublesome to man.” Unfortunately, it opens the door to unlimited destruction of these creatures, which have no access to any protection.

The grey squirrel is, of course, also called by some a “tree rat,” which it is not. However, it categorises it as an animal to be despised and abhorred. Even David Attenborough dislikes rats.

In 1900, it was the red squirrel which was so widespread that it was considered to be the pest. In Scotland, the gamekeepers and landowners insisted on a cull and payment was made to all and sundry who produced red squirrels’ tails. A massacre ensued and the population was decimated.

Over the same period, the red squirrels succumbed to the parapox virus. Many of these squirrels never had contact with the greys, which were still few in number and not widespread. The greys had already suffered from this virus and had developed immunity. Today, some of the red squirrels have also acquired resistance to this horrendous disease.

The survival of the red squirrel was further inhibited by de-forestation and the loss of habitat. Fifty per cent of the woodland present in 1940 was destroyed. Recently more deciduous woods have been planted which benefit the grey squirrels, the red preferring large coniferous forests.

Mrs Celia Otter in her letter (Yorkshire Post, July 14) blames the grey squirrel for almost wiping out the red. However, as is so often the case, it is man who must bear a large part of the responsibility for the red squirrel’s present precarious position.

Certainly, more coniferous forests need to be planted in which they can thrive. And surely, after over a century of living in this country, the grey has earned the right to remain in the deciduous woods where it is now well established. Some of us are happy to have them even in our own gardens, despite the obvious drawbacks. As we harbour rats in addition, which eat most flowers including roses, my motto is now: “if you can’t beat them, enjoy them!”