The House of Lords debates Grey Squirrels.

And it looks like the scheme to re-introduce the Red Squirrel to Thetford Forest has been a failure.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Whitty The department issued and consulted on the Government's response to the review of non-native species policy in December 2003. The response set out the Government's initial views in responding to the detailed review report. In preparing the response, the Government took full account of the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its recommended three-stage approach to dealing with invasive non-native species, which the review also endorsed:
 

The Government agreed with the review working group that the development of comprehensive risk assessment procedures to assess the risks posed by non-native species is a priority, as it would inform further prevention action.

The department has commissioned research to develop a standardised system that would enable the risk of species becoming invasive to be routinely assessed. The research is due for completion in early 2005. The aim is to produce a standarised system to identify those species constituting the highest risks, and to provide guidance on the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of options for management action.

We have not yet conducted a formal cost estimation and cost/benefit analysis for controlling specific species such as the grey squirrel.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their estimate of the cost of the damage caused to community forests and other planting schemes by grey squirrels.[HL4224]
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Lord Whitty: No specific estimate has been made of the likely cost of damage to woodland planted under the community forest programme or any other support mechanism.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they regard the project to reinstate red squirrels into Thetford Forest to have been a success.[HL4230]

Lord Whitty: The red squirrel population in Thetford Forest has shown a slow long-term decline, closely associated with the spread of the grey squirrel in the area. Over the past decade, efforts have been made to reverse this decline, using a combination of forest management, targeted grey squirrel control and some limited trial restocking with red squirrels. Although we cannot say that there has been an improvement in the situation, this work has been very helpful in gathering information to inform squirrel management elsewhere and we now know a great deal more about the effort required to control grey squirrel populations.

Red squirrels are still present in the forest, though probably in very small numbers.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Forestry Commission has a policy to control grey squirrels; and, if so, what methods it recommends.[HL4231]

Lord Whitty: The Forestry Commission is currently engaged in the preparation of a policy statement on grey squirrel control in England. This is one of the commitments made in the response to the recommendations contained in the Sustaining England's Woodlands review.

The Forestry Commission's policy on the public forest estate in England is that grey squirrel control is undertaken according to circumstances, through a risk-based approach. This approach has the aim of preventing damage to high-value timber crops, the prevention of damage to property and the conservation of red squirrel populations and other features of high biodiversity value.

The recommended methods of control are set out in the Forestry Commission's forest practice note Controlling Grey Squirrel Damage to Woodland. The current edition of this guidance was published in April 2004. It recommends warfarin poisoning and live trapping using baited cages as the most effective methods of reducing grey squirrel populations.

Earl Peel asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there has been any change in policy towards controlling the grey squirrel since the reply given by the Lord Donoughue, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, that the Government would "do all we can to promote effective means of control because grey squirrels are pests and should be got rid of" (HL Deb, 26/01/99, col. 873).[HL4232]

     

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): No. The statement made by my noble friend Lord Donoughue was in the context of the establishment of new broadleaved woodland and there has been no change in the policy that underpinned that statement.

The Forestry Commission is currently engaged in the preparation of a clear modern policy towards grey squirrels. This is one of the commitments made in the response to the recommendations contained in the Sustaining England's Woodlands review.

In addition the Forestry Commission advises on methods for controlling grey squirrel. Its advice is set out in the practice note Controlling Grey Squirrel Damage to Woodland and this was revised and republished in April 2004. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House.

While the Forestry Commission has a significant role to play in providing advice on best practice, the prime responsibility for controlling grey squirrel damage lies with landowners.

But we Air Rifle Hunters already knew that.