Devon wildlife charity suggests culling grey squirrels to reintroduce native red breed

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A wildlife charity in Devon has suggested culling grey squirrels might be the answer to reintroduce the native red breed.

Exmoor Squirrel Project says that support is growing for the plan to reintroduce red squirrels into the wild in the West Country.

However, staff say that grey squirrels have been decimating young trees and would have to be culled to allow the native species to come back.

Red squirrels can’t live alongside grey squirrels, which were brought over from America. Experts say they carry a virus called squirrel pox, which they are immune to, but is deadly to the reds.

Kerrie Hosegood, woodland officer at the Exmoor Squirrel Project says that grey squirrels are wreaking havoc on our woodland, causing an estimated £40 million a year in tree damage.

Grey squirrels strip trees of sap for food, eventually killing them.

Kerrie suggests that culling grey squirrels and even introducing them on menus to reduce waste, could be a viable option.

She told ITV West Country: "We don't want to just target greys and say 'let's remove all of them.' There are a lot of managed plans in place as to how we deal with them.

"The red evolved with our landscape across the UK and I think it’s really important to bring that back in.

“They are still in parts of the country: Scotland, the Lake District, up north, in Wales and in Ireland but the South West hasn’t seen a red squirrel in the wild for 60 to 70 years.

“I’ve never seen one, it would be lovely to see them in real life and running around our woodlands again.”

In the West Country, red squirrels can only be found in a large enclosure at Wildwood Ascot in East Devon.

Tree Surgeon Nick Hosegood, Kerrie's partner, has seen the damage grey squirrels cause first-hand.

A crop he'd planted to replace older fallen trees has already been 'destroyed' by grey squirrels.

He told ITV West Country: "Next year they'll come back and strip what's left of the trees. That's what happens.

"You can see all the little teeth marks in it. They've nullified 30 years worth of work and are just destroying the woodland that we have here."

The RSPCA has said that reintroducing red squirrels would be challenging.

Adam Grogan, head of wildlife at the organisation said: "You can't remove the grey squirrel from South West England because you're always going to have areas where the animal is going to come back from.

"It's not like an island like Anglesey where they did remove the grey squirrels."

Exmoor National Park has not yet formed a policy on the idea of bringing back red squirrels, but in response to the suggestion of culling, says there are benefits worth considering.

Woodland officer, Graeme McVittie, said: "As a national park we've got big ambitions to increase tree cover quite significantly, we want to see recovery for nature, for natural flood management, for all the health and wellbeing benefits.

"That's going to be difficult unless we relieve some of the tree-planting pressures."