Invasive Species: American Grey vs. British Red Squirrels
One of Britain's most beloved creatures, the red squirrel, is facing extinction. And its American cousin, the grey squirrel, that is to blame. Kitty Logan explains.
They're iconic and beautiful creatures with their distinctive red color and tufted ears. But Britain's native red squirrels are increasingly rare, with only around 60 to 70 thousand left in a few areas. They compete for survival against the dominant grey squirrel and they're losing that fight. They're shy, vulnerable and fragile. They can't tolerate extreme weather and with a limited diet, they struggle to find food. Conservationist David Mills runs a breeding program for red squirrels at the British Wildlife Centre to try to preserve the species.
DAVID MILLS BRITISH WILDLIFE CENTRE "We breed them and we're trying to put them on islands, where are there are no greys, so there are reservoirs of reds, so that if we ever get rid of the greys or reduce the numbers, we can introduce the reds in specific places."
The key to the red squirrel's survival is separation from the greys. Red squirrels are smaller, more delicate and only tolerate certain foods, such as seeds and nuts.
They find it impossible to live alongside more aggressive grey squirrels, who often steal their food, leaving them to starve. Many reds have also died from a lethal virus, which greys carry but are immune to.
KITTY LOGAN SURREY "Grey squirrels first brought here from American over a hundred year ago and were introduced to parks like this one. They've thrived and now there are around 3 million of them across the country. They're popular with the public, but their presence is detrimental to their native red rival."
Grey squirrels have spread all over the country – they're a common sight in woodlands and parks. They're hardy and agile and happy to forage for any food anywhere. If nature takes its course and the number of greys continue to soar, the reds could face extinction.
DAVID MILLS BRITISH WILDLIFE CENTRE "Within the next 20 – 25 years, if we don't cull the greys, or control the greys sufficiently, I'm afraid the reds could disappear as the greys encroach on the reds territory up in the north."
Experts are considering a variety of measures from culling to a squirrel contraceptive to encourage greys to reduce in numbers naturally. But such drastic measures are controversial – both with animal rights activists and those who love to see grey squirrels in urban areas. The conservationists are optimistic they can save this delicate creature. Its survival depends on their support and a safe environment away from its American cousins. Kitty Logan, CGTN in Surrey, England.