Two BBC News reports ...Grey vs Red Squirrel

A Welsh wildlife trust has distanced itself from a conservation organisation's plan to pay a bounty for people to kill grey squirrels.

The red squirrels of Anglesey in north Wales are threatened by their grey cousins and the conservation group the Esme Kirby Trust has decided to revive bounties.

It is offering 1 per tail in an attempt to cut the grey squirrels' numbers.

However, the North Wales Wildlife Trust said it disagreed with the bounty plan.

Morgan Parry, of the trust, said they agreed that grey squirrel numbers needed to be cut, but that a bounty was not the best way.

"We are trying to work together with a lot of different organisations, including the Esme Kirby Trust. But we oppose the bounty quite strongly," he said.

"We are afraid people will kill, trap and shoot animals just for the money," he said.

It is thought the grey squirrels have reached Anglesey either by swimming across the Menai Strait or using the road bridge.

The larger and tougher grey squirrels have a different digestive system to the red ones. This enables them to eat food before it is ripe enough for the red squirrels to eat.

Without a supply of food, the reds are forced to move on or starve.

The Esme Kirby Trust is part of a wider "Anglesey Red Squirrel Project" which plans to make Anglesey "red squirrel country" again.

There are plans to supply a trap for the subsidised sum of 7 which they claim is much cheaper than can be bought elsewhere.

Predatory

There is also a plan for red squirrels to be re-introduced to Holy Island off Anglesey where they would be free from any predatory grey squirrels.

The grey squirrel bounty was first introduced in 1932 by the Forestry Committee and was set at 2.5p per tail.

It was halted when World War Two began but then resumed in the 1950s under the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The system, though, was abandoned in 1957 because it was abused too much.

Second report.

The man representing some of the country's major wildlife conservation groups is calling for grey squirrels to be killed.

Dr Simon Lyster, director general of The Wildlife Trusts, says England will lose its native red squirrel by 2010 and the rest of the UK may not be far behind, unless the drastic measure is taken.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Unfortunately we really have no choice in the short-term."

The organisation has produced a report "Red or Dead" to warn about the problem.

"The situation in mainland England is looking very, very dire," said Dr Lyster.

The main culprit is the invader which was introduced to the UK at the end of the last century.

"The grey squirrel is basically the problem.

"We've got to find ways of excluding grey squirrels from red squirrel areas and in the short-term that is going to mean controlling grey squirrels."

He explained "that means killing them", but insisted that this was only necessary "in the areas where they interface with reds".

"Nobody's suggesting doing it all around England," he said, perhaps forgetting Viscount Brookborough who in June suggested to the House of Lords a "shoot on sight" policy.

The government rejected this plan, with minister Baroness Farrington fearing letters from parents who "get enormous pleasure taking their children to feed grey squirrels".

Dr Lyster admitted he was uneasy about killing one species to save another but believed it was the right thing to do since the red had been in the UK for 10,000 years.

Survival of the fittest

Popular myth suggests that the grey wins the battle for survival by force but violence is not the secret of its success.

It simply makes more efficient use of available food, produces more offspring and is generally more robust than its cousin.

It may also carry a virus which kills the red.

Dr Lyster said experience in areas where the red variety was surviving showed "controlling" greys was not the only solution.

Less serious action could also be successful, such as introducing "buffer zones" of pine trees or barren land to stop the grey invasion.

Once greys become established, reds can be expected to die out in just 15 years.

But red populations that have survived are sometimes in surprising locations, including Liverpool, Newcastle, Belfast and Aberdeen.

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November 2001.