A squirrel has had to be put down after being attacked by a group of youths in Cheltenham.
A Cheltenham dad tried to save the squirrel by taking it to a nearby rescue centre, but a change in the law means it was not allowed to be saved as it is classed as an invasive species. Brett Davies, 26, from Cheltenham town centre, was walking along the Honeybourne Line with his one-year-old boy last week when he saw a group of children standing off to the side of the refurbished railway line.
He said: “I saw a bunch of kids who must’ve only been about 10 years old all stood over something off the trail on the grass. I was just walking past being the usual nosey pedestrian.
“I looked over and I could see a squirrel twitching on the floor, and they were not being nice at all. Some of the kids were getting quite aggressive - kicking it, rolling it over with their foot and poking it with big sticks."
He said adults were "stood around watching", adding: “That’s what made me go and step in, as you could see the squirrel was breathing very fast."
He said the children and adults left as he pulled up the pram next to it, but he noticed the squirrel had been injured so gathered it up in a blanket offered to him by a passer-by.
Brett and his wife Bryonnie took it to Vale Wildlife Hospital.
The hospital's manager Martin Brookes said he was appalled by the children’s behaviour.
He said: “That (particular case) was some kids deliberately picking on a squirrel.
“It’s not something we see very often.
“It makes you wonder what sort of society we’re living in if kids are doing that sort of thing at an early age.”
But Brett didn’t realise that, despite his humane actions, recent legislation meant the squirrel had to be euthanised.
Due to a law change in December 2019, it is now illegal to rescue and release ‘invasive species’ such as grey squirrels or Muntjac deer.
Centres found to rehabilitating ‘non-native’ animals can face heavy fines of up to £250,000 and the hospital itself could lose its licence.
Martin said: “The problem with squirrels is we’re not allowed to treat them now and any squirrel that comes into us has to be put to sleep.
“Trying to explain that to a member of the public that wants to help this poor animal with the best intentions in the world that we just can’t do anything, puts us in a very awkward situation.”Brett was saddened by the news that the squirrel had to be put down because of the injuries it sustained and the new law.
He said: “(I was told) If the kids hadn’t had traumatised it as much as they had, it probably would’ve survived on its own.
“That’s what upsets me the most is that I’m the one who had to take it there to die.”
Grey squirrels, originally from North America, were introduced to the UK in the 19th century.
It is estimated there are now more than 2.7 million grey squirrels in the UK. The grey squirrels carry a virus called Squirrel Pox.
Although they are immune the effects of the virus, they transmit it to native red squirrels and are therefore blamed for the decline of the European species.