The plan to save the red squirrels involves slaughtering rival gray squirrels

Red squirrels are in danger of extinction, according to experts (Theo Louis)

Red squirrels are in danger of extinction, according to experts (Theo Louis)

A government-backed action plan to save English red squirrels from extinction includes reducing the number of rival grays.

Over the past 150 years, populations of the beloved red have declined so rapidly that the species has been classified as endangered nationwide.

Volunteers, conservation organizations and government agencies plan to join forces to protect and enhance legally protected populations of red squirrels and expand their habitat.

Rival gray squirrels are the biggest threat to the survival of the species in England.

Grays, which have been imported from North America since 1876, are larger and more aggressive. They compete with reds for food and habitat, and carry the squirrel pox virus, which is almost always fatal to reds.

According to the Woodland Trust, the red population in Britain has fallen from around 3.5 million to 120,000-160,000. In England, the number is thought to be as low as 15,000.

The Wildlife Trusts say the species could be at risk of extinction within 10 years.

The five-year action plan to 2028 includes the promotion of “humane management of the gray squirrel”.

Support will be provided for gray cull training and “accreditation that promotes high standards of ethics and efficiency”, says the draft plan.

Gray squirrels strip bark from trees (England Red Squirrel Action Plan)

Gray squirrels strip bark from trees (England Red Squirrel Action Plan)

But non-lethal control can also be performed. “New, cost-effective, alternative and complementary management methods for the gray squirrel will be adopted and promoted where appropriate, if and when they become available,” according to the document.

The plan was developed by Squirrel Accord, a UK-wide partnership of 43 conservation and forestry organisations, government agencies and businesses.

Kay Haw, director of the UK Squirrel Accord, said Independent“The lethal methods currently used to manage the gray squirrel are classified as humane because they are fast. It is not allowed to use methods considered inhumane, such as poisoning or drowning.

“Grey squirrel management is essential to conserve red squirrel populations and young deciduous trees.”

The group is developing an oral contraceptive that it hopes will be available by 2030.

“Red squirrels are an important part of England’s natural heritage. While human actions have threatened these beloved mammals, human actions can also reverse their fate,” she said.

Lord Kinnoull, chairman of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, said: “We must stop the loss of biodiversity that we are sadly witnessing in England.

“In addition to bringing so much joy to people’s lives, red squirrels are an integral part of our forest ecosystems and support the natural regeneration of our forests.”

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