Everyone likes red squirrels – I know I do. And everyone would like to see red squirrels return to their widespread former distribution, even if that meant seeing the back of the non-native grey squirrel – I know I would.
I’ve said this before, and it momentarily caused a stir, ‘If I could click my fingers and all the grey squirrels in the country would disappear then I would ‘click!’ right now’. But it is a little more complicated and difficult than that, isn’t it?
One of the apparently most promising red squirrel recovery projects has been on Anglesey where you would have thought that its island nature would provide an effective barrier to grey squirrel ingress -but this year I notice that 10 grey squirrels had been killed in the Menai Bridge/Beaumaris area – and others will have evaded capture. And then in August this year there were reports of a virus killing red squirrels on Anglesey, where numbers had built up from around 40 in the late 1990s to over 500 this year.
It’s good news that some red squirrels have nipped over the Menai Straight from Anglesey to Gwynnedd but this also presumably means that infected red squirrels might make the journey in the other direction as might, and do, greys too. Anglesey looked a very good bet for a project like this – and there has been success so far – but eventual success seems far from certain. But, Good luck to them! is what I say.
I’d be less keen to put my money into the plan to reintroduce red squirrels into Cornwall, I think. I happened to be down in Cornwall a few weeks ago failing to see choughs on the Lizard. Although I didn’t see choughs as I walked the coast path I was slightly surprised to see a lot of grey squirrels. I noticed them at the time in the woodlands and gardens but also saw several happily taking a stroll through the pastures too. I rather got the impression that there were a lot of them about.
And yet the Cornwall Red Squirrel Project is hoping to establish a cordon sanitaire on the Lizard and another across the Land’s End peninsula. This project has been advised, I see, by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and is supported by a wide variety of people including Prince Charles (Duke of Cornwall of course) and noted environmentalist Sir Jonathan Porrit (I think that might be Porritt), B (might that be Ben?) Goldsmith, R (might that be Robin?) Hanbury-Tenison and R (might that be another Robin?) Knox Johnston. Another founder sponsor of the project is R (might that be Richard?) Benyon who is also a Defra minister.
A senior conservationist, who did not want to be named, described the project as ‘barking mad’ and ‘doomed to failure’. No knighthood for him (for it was a he) if his identity leaks out – it won’t from me, though.