Boffins to put squirrels on the pill to stop them causing havoc to countryside

Britain's grey squirrels could be put on the pill to keep their numbers down and boost the red squirrel population.

The Government-approved scheme has seen scientists developing an oral contraception, with hopeful results being reported.

Describing the invasive grey squirrels as "pests" who cause "untold damage to the countryside" environment minister, Lord Benyon, says he hopes this could help eradicate the grey squirrel in a non lethal way and recover the "beloved red squirrel".

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Lord Benyon blamed squirrels for wrecking fledgling broad-leaf trees and “diminishing our ability to tackle climate change” through their destructive habits.

Research by the UK Squirrel Accord (UKSA) and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (Apha) could see the contraceptives administered at special feeding sites that can be accessed by 70% of the local grey squirrel population.

Apha is testing different methods of keeping red squirrels out of the feeders, using body weight, so they could be used in areas where there are both types of squirrel.

UKSA now has the funds to cover the research of the grey squirrel fertility control project to reduce the population, believed to be around three million.

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Lord Kinnoull, chairman of the UK Squirrel Accord and Red Squirrel Survival Trust, said: “This is a vital milestone on the road to enabling forestry to play fully its part in the climate battle, while preserving our native broadleaf trees and allowing our native red squirrels to return.”

Gideon Henderson, the chief scientific adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “Fertility control can be an effective method complementing other approaches to wildlife management."

Vanessa Fawcett, of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, said: “Without effective conservation management, red squirrels could face further local extinctions across the UK."

Rebecca Isted, of the Forestry Commission, said she was “optimistic these trials could eventually lead to a significant change of approach in the management of these animals".

She added that the Forestry Commission is updating the Government’s Grey Squirrel Action Plan, and will later set out its aims to better understand and manage the negative impacts of grey squirrels.


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