Grey squirrels (right) were first introduced into the UK in 1876, as 'pets' for an estate garden. The owner brought a pair back from America, and greys soon became fashionable amongst his friends.There are now an estimated 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK!
Like many alien species they are blamed for causing problems to the native ecosystem, in particular to our red squirrels whose numbers have fallen dramatically over the last 50 years.
We now have about 140,000 reds, with the majority of them in Scotland.
The greys compete for food, and, being larger than the reds, they can carry more body fat which helps them survive in hard weather. Many greys also carry the 'squirrel pox' virus, which they are immune to, but it is deadly to the reds. One infected grey coming into an area can decimate the native reds in a matter of days.
Greys cause a range of problems for humans, from 'stealing' food meant for garden birds (and taking their eggs), to nesting in your attic and gnawing on roof joists and electric cables. Squirrels are rodents - with greys sometimes being unkindly called 'tree rats' - and as an invasive species they are treated as 'vermin' and killed by shooting or trapping.
Sometimes, when greys first approach an area containing reds, live-catch traps are used, in case a red is accidentally caught. They must be released unharmed but the greys must be humanely destroyed. Once a grey is 'caught' and under your control - even if it is trapped in your garage or shed - you commit a criminal offence if you release it or help it to escape! This coupled with the proviso that they must be 'humanely' killed has seen several well-meaning people prosecuted.
As with all problems, prevention is better than cure. Check that there are no holes outside giving access to your roof or attic.If you do discover 'visitors' then you can try and persuade them to leave by making a 'stink'!
Mothballs or a repellent spray can make your loft less-appealing to squirrels - but remember to take suitable precautions when using all chemicals.
As always, if you would like advice on your problem - or preventing a problem -
'Contact Us' or phone 0800 028 7111.
Photo of red squirrel by Ray eye (CC BY_SA 2.0 DE)
Grey squirrel (inset) by Natalie-S (CC BY-SA 4.0)