Wednesday, 20 March 2013

The Grey and the Red

My daughter Phoebe is in something of a dilemma . “I like the Grey because we see them on the way to school, but the Red reminds me of a visit to Formby Point”. She was talking, of course, about squirrels. The introduction of the Grey, some say, has proved a disaster for the native Red and a species that was wide spread at the beginning of the 20th century is now confined to the fringes. I have seen the Red Squirrel at the National Trust reserve near Southport myself and they are attractive critters rendered tame by the high numbers of visitors to Formby Point. The Red or to give it its Latin name Scirus Vulgaris was plentiful once, but a combination of disease, a major epidemic destroyed many between 1910-20. the destruction of its habitat have undermined the species. It is likely that the Grey- a Northern American native- first introduced on the Duke of Bedford's Woburn estate quickly spread northwards and were better equipped to take advantage of the changes.

A Guardian report of 1912 referred to “large numbers of these grey squirrels have managed to escape or have been allowed to run loose from and in the gardens of the Zoological Society of London, and others have been turned down on various estates. A friend who lives on the edge of a Cheshire woodland not far from Manchester tells me that a large grey squirrel, which looks to him very like the squirrels he has seen in Regent's Park, has paid visits with other squirrels in his garden” .

I don't know when the Red Squirrel became extinct in the Staffordshire Moorlands, but I would have thought some of the woodland around Oakamoor would make an ideal habitat should they return.

Another introduced animal which has also devastating implications for a native species is the American Mink, many have been released into the wild by animal liberationists. In the late 90s over a 1,000 escaped from a fur farm at Onneley. A resident of Denford told me with some bitterness that a colony of water voles locally had been eliminated a fact that she blamed on the mink. I saw a mink once by the River Wye feasting on an elver. These voracious animals are blamed for the 90% reduction in the water vole population.