Red squirrel versus grey squirrel

| | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (0)

Friends, I'd like to take just a moment of your valuable time to discuss a subject that affects us all--squirrels.

That's right, squirrels. You may be a gardener (no doubt itching to get into the far-off springtime soil) who is now whiling away the tail end of winter by hatching creative ways to keep the pests from stealing your produce spoils. Or you may be a nature lover who just enjoys watching the squirrel families scamper about the trees, marveling over their curiosity, resourcefulness and dexterity.

I, myself, have a love-hate relationship with the squirrels. I've been in both the gardening and the nature-loving camps. I enjoy watching them, but there was one summer spent shaking my fist at the varmints as they took every single green tomato off the vine and brazenly ate them on the branch outside my second-story window, adding insult to injury by spitting choice bits down onto my car roof below.

But consider now the British red squirrel, a vibrant, cheeky little creature whose scarlet coat simply glows. The sad truth of the matter is that the big, pushy American grey squirrel is taking over the plucky red squirrel's habitat and causing marked species decline.

Since coming to England, and especially after my week in Scotland, I've thought of the squirrel in a new way: Yet Another Sign of Our Shrinking Globe.

"The red squirrel is native to Britain, but its future is increasingly uncertain as the introduced American grey squirrel expands its range across the mainland. There are estimated to be only 140,000 red squirrels left in Britain, with over 2.5 million greys. The Forestry Commission is working with partners in projects across Britain to develop a long-term conservation strategy that deters greys and encourages reds."

The red squirrel may be an English icon, just like a red fox, but it is dying out here in Great Britain, as the above Forestry Commission report makes clear. This is hardly a new phenomenon. I think of Bill Bryson's excellent Australia travel book, In a Sunburnt Country, which documents case after case of species annihilation caused by the introduction of Western plants and animals.

This time, though, the little red British squirrel is at the mercy of the behemoth American grey. Of course the culture critics can make all sorts of fun metaphors with that one. But I see this phenomenon as more of a scientific fact of life, albeit one that I hope we can alter. So I cheer on the underdog red squirrel, especially the cute ones that scampered under our lodge window in the Scottish Highlands, snatching up the peanuts we put out for them and running up the nearby silver birch to crack into the shells as we cheered from within.

Just as I am depressed by the sight of American chain stores and restaurants spread across the United Kingdom (as much as I may sometimes enjoy visiting one of those businesses), I am also depressed by the sight of American chain stores and restaurants spread across the United States. It has long been a complaint of mine that, if I drive a few miles out of any American city, I find myself in unchanging strip malls of Chili's, Targets, Borders and Blockbusters.

"If I look at the retail landscape, I can't tell anymore whether I am in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Chicago, D.C. or Lexington, Kentucky," I moan.

I do appreciate the convenience and the lower prices of these chains, but I also bemoan the continued homogenization of America. The same thing is happening in England, although the mom and pop stores seem to be doing better overall here than at home.

Let's do what we can to prevent the same thing happening to the world's wildlife. I know it's been happening for centuries, but that's no reason that we have to keep on letting it happen. Go red squirrels, go!

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Red squirrel versus grey squirrel.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/6932

4 Comments

" It has long been a complaint of mine that, if I drive a few miles out of any American city, I find myself in unchanging strip malls of Chili's, Targets, Borders and Blockbusters."

Wow, that's too bad.I also hate it when those damn chain stores take up all the wildnerness. Anyhoo
I saw a short film on this very sad story and it was remarkable to see this little fight for survival happening all the way in another part of the world. I'm new on the subject but looked up more on the story. I'm actually kind of scared of squirrels heheh--but the red squirrel I'll make an exception :), very pretty animal. Anyway, I truly hope one day the population of the red squirrels will stabilize. I wish to see a red squirrel one day and visit. The moment I see one cross my path first thing I'll say is "Wow, I really made it to England"
Tom J said:
"Therefore, contraception and breeding programs DON'T WORK. Do you really think the British are so stupid and ignorant they didn't do any research first?"

Old comment, but no one else who reads should turn this into a full blown culture fight. Please don't--the person didn't mean to be offensive

Brien is clueless.

Grey squirrels carry a virus that doesn't bother them, but kills reds.

Grey squirrels eat acorns at an earlier stage of ripeness than reds, which means there isn't enough food left for the reds.

Therefore, contraception and breeding programs DON'T WORK. Do you really think the British are so stupid and ignorant they didn't do any research first?

I quite agree with you, Brian, for even though I was furious at the grey squirrels for a summer, I'm still an animal lover.

I believe that using a contraceptive to help control the grey squirrel population is one of the solutions that has been discussed. But I do hope the powers that be think through their attempts very carefully, since, of course, the smallest action in nature can have far-reaching consequences as it makes its way along the food chain.

It's worth noting, of course, that red squirrels do just as much damage to gardens and roofs as do grey squirrels. Both are often considered pests. But my own opinion is that we should learn to live with them, not exterminate them.

I understand that imperiled red squirrels are iconic in England. There is no need to violently exterminate the grey squirrels. The grey squirrels should be given feed laced with contraceptives to curtail their overpopulation. Wildlife conservationists should also have breeding programs for the reds to increase their population.

Leave a comment


Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Stephanie Fosnight

Stephanie Fosnight left her Chicago newspaper job in September 2007 to spend a year volunteering for a church in Nottingham, England--and liked it so much she came back last fall for a second year.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Stephanie Fosnight published on February 25, 2008 10:03 AM.

Sunday lunch at the pub was the previous entry in this blog.

Earthquake! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Pages