Closed petition Introduce closed season in grey squirrel cull, so that babies aren't left to die

As an introduced species (brought from America 150 years ago), grey squirrels can be, and are, killed all the year round. It means that nursing mothers can be killed in the baby season, February to September, which is particularly cruel, because their babies are left to die.

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Whatever one's opinion of the ecological impact of grey squirrels might be (please see https://www.urbansquirrels.co.uk/for-those-who-do-not-like-grey-squirrels/ for more information, and, https://www.urbansquirrels.co.uk/campaigning-references/ for academic references), it is generally accepted that culling should be conducted in a humane way. When nursing mothers are killed, their babies are left to slowly die, which is far from humane. A closed season would prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering.

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Government responded

This response was given on 9 February 2021

The Government agrees that control of grey squirrels should be humane but has no plans to limit the period during which lethal control is undertaken as this would prevent their effective management.

Read the response in full

In 2014 the population of grey squirrels in the UK was estimated at two million, and it has increased since. Significantly restricting the window in which the species can be legally managed could see the population increase in size, further increasing its negative impacts on the native species with which it shares habitat and food sources.

Management of grey squirrels is a matter for individual landowners to determine. The Government strongly agrees that where this involves the lethal control of grey squirrels, this should be conducted humanely in line with animal welfare law. This action may be undertaken to safeguard against the damage to biodiversity and forestry assets caused by the species. There are examples of locally coordinated management of grey squirrels in areas key for red squirrel conservation.

There are no plans to prevent the management of grey squirrels for nine months of the year, as this petition is advocating. Limiting the control of grey squirrels to three months over the winter would reduce the effectiveness of efforts to manage the species. During this period, they spend much of their time in their nests, known as dreys. There are also additional welfare implications associated with management over winter, including trapping in cold/wet weather which could lead to unnecessary suffering.

As set out in the grey squirrel action plan, management should be undertaken as part of “collaborative control projects where a coordinated and comprehensive control partnership has been established”. It is important also to consider the suffering of the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) as a result of the squirrelpox virus, spread by grey squirrels. Squirrelpox virus has a very high mortality rate in the wild and does not kill its victims quickly, with it taking up to a week in some cases. The virus leaves infected red squirrels lethargic, disorientated, uncoordinated and with ulcers, lesions and scabs around the face, feet and genitalia. In the presence of squirrelpox virus, research shows red squirrels die out 17-25 times faster than by competition from grey squirrels alone. Every decision on the grey squirrel must take into account the species’ potential for harm.

The Government understands that the grey squirrel is seen as a charismatic species that has endeared itself to some, especially those in areas where the red squirrel has become locally extinct. The Government’s view is that preventing the management of grey squirrels for 75% of the year would reduce the efficacy of management measures, leading to further increases to the grey squirrel population. This would in turn, increase the negative impacts that the grey squirrel has on native species, ecosystems and forestry.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs