Grey Squirrels – Controversies and Control

A common question we are asked at LANDGUARD about the grey squirrel sounds like this – “Is it actually legal to kill squirrels in this country?” and the following answer often surprises people!

The Grey squirrel is a hugely destructive non-native species, legally recognized as a pest and as such afforded no protection in the UK. Furthermore, under Schedule 9 of the WCA, it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild, or even to allow one to escape. This means if you trap one intentionally, or even accidentally, you are obliged to humanely dispatch it or risk breaking the law.

So, how did we end up in this situation?

Since their introduction into Britain in the 1870s as an ornamental species, grey squirrels have spread rapidly. They have displaced the red squirrel throughout most of England, Wales and large parts of Scotland and also spread the deadly SPV (squirrel pox virus) against which our native red squirrels have no defence.

Grey squirrels also pose a serious threat to native and commercial forests and our wildlife. Bark stripping (as a food source) from trees through early summer damages stands of timber and swathes of natural woodland. During the spring a grey squirrel will steal the eggs and young chicks of songbird and ground-nesting bird populations with devastating effect.

Grey squirrels are often implicated in electrical fires and water leaks in domestic and commercial properties and the combined cost of damages are estimated at £14 million per year to the British economy across all sectors.

Legalities of Control

As a response to the risks they pose grey squirrels can be controlled all year round by a variety of methods from shooting to trapping. It is an offence under section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) to introduce and release a grey squirrel into the wild meaning trapped squirrels must be dispatched.

Grey Squirrel Control Timeline

The impacts of the grey squirrels in our environment has been recognized for around a century. Follow the control timeline to learn a little more..

1931 – A national anti-grey squirrel campaign is initiated to combat the spread of grey squirrels.

1933 – The Destructive Imported Animals Act makes it illegal to import, release, or keep captive grey squirrels without a licence.

1944 – The County War Agricultural Executive Committees issues free shotgun cartridges to registered clubs to reduce grey squirrel numbers. By the end of 1947 450 Grey Squirrel Shooting Clubs had killed 100,000 grey squirrels. Grey squirrels continued to spread.

1952 – By 1952 there are around 7,000 Grey Squirrel Shooting Clubs in existence. The Forestry Commission proposes an increase in the effort to control the grey squirrel through a national tail bounty.

1953 – An experimental bonus system introduced to complement squirrel clubs; one shilling or two free cartridges paid per grey squirrel tail. The bounty is raised to two shillings in 1956. 1,520,304 grey squirrel bounties paid in five years with no effect on grey squirrel numbers. The system is abandoned in 1958.

1958 – Trapping shown to be more efficient than shooting grey squirrels.

1973 – The Squirrels order makes it legal to poison a grey squirrel with warfarin, a first generation anticoagulant, in areas with no red squirrels.

2014 – The EU licence for the production and sale of warfarin as a grey squirrel bait ended on 30 September 2014. Manufacturers and stockists are no longer able to sell warfarin to control grey squirrels. However, users who have stocks of it left can use it until 30 September 2015.

2014 – 2017 – Grey squirrel numbers on mainland Britain continue to rise.

2019 – Estimated over 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK (Grey Squirrel Control 2005).

If you have concerns about grey squirrels around your property or would like further advice please don’t hesitate to call…

Office – 0113 2037427 or 01423 209030

24/7 –  07970 902 194

Red Squirrel Survival Trust

Grey Squirrel Control Services