Grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are constantly vilified for their adverse effect on the local environment here in Britain because they are not native creatures. Their ancestors were North American immigrants, first introduced to the British Isles in the late 1870s by local landowners who considered them ‘exotic’ (what were they thinking?). Not only did the Greys bring with them the squirrelpox virus (SQPV), which doesn’t harm them but kills the native Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris), the Greys also compete with the Reds for food. And as the Greys have a broader food range – they’re able to eat nuts with high tannin contents, like acorns, which the Reds cannot digest – they have a better chance of survival when winters are hard and food resources scarce.
Luckily, there are plenty of folks out there trying to save the Reds – and you can too, by supporting organisations like the Red Squirrel Survival Trust http://rsst.org.uk/ Let’s hope they’re successful in their efforts as I’d hate to see the locals overcome by the brash interlopers from across the Atlantic.
All that being said, there is something incredibly cute about Grey squirrels, about the way they sit back on their hind legs, nibbling on the nuts they’re clutching in their front paws. There’s something about those big doe eyes, and the way they quiver and shake their bushy tails. Though I understand all the arguments against them I can’t help but enjoy their antics.