BiologyThe grey squirrel is an introduced species that is now common throughout most of England. They are often viewed as an attractive addition to our wildlife. However, they can cause damage when they access buildings and fire when they chew electrical wiring. They also strip bark from trees, which causes serious economic damage in woodlands. Grey squirrels compete with our native red squirrel for food and shelter and this has contributed to the decline in red squirrel numbers.
HabitsGrey squirrels are found in a wide range of situations, from urban parks and gardens to rural woodland. They spend part of their time foraging on the ground but are always within easy reach of trees.
Their food includes acorns, beech mast, nuts, fruits and bulbs. They sometimes take birds’ eggs and nestling’s. Their habit of bark stripping is probably a combination of social behaviour and feeding activity and occurs mainly between April and July.
Grey squirrels usually have their young either in dreys (nests made of twigs and leaves) or in holes in trees. They will also breed in roof spaces where they may build their nests from loft insulation or other available materials. Grey squirrels do not hibernate but are less active during periods of cold weather.
They normally have two litters each year; the first in February to March, and a second in June to July. The litter size averages from three to four young, and these become independent at about three months of age. The grey squirrel’s main food supplies of acorns and beech mast vary in abundance from year to year and this has an important influence on breeding success and survival.
Reasons for controlGrey squirrels can causes serious economic damage in woodlands by stripping bark from trees. They have also contributed to the decline of the native red squirrel Sciurus vulgaris by competing for food and habitats and transmitting squirrel pox.
Contamination of goods and machinery, fouling of buildings and products, spread of diseases, comply with UK Legislation.
There are currently no specific legal provisions protecting grey squirrels or governing their management or control. However, under the general provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is illegal to use any bow or crossbow, any explosive other than ammunition for a firearm, or a live decoy. Squirrels are protected from ill-treatment by the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996.
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