We are more than half-way through over-wintering our autumn babies, who were too young to be released on the wrong side of winter, but the coldest days of the year have only just started. The squirrels staying here would be very grateful, if they thought in those terms, for the warm nest-boxes and plentiful food. But they will be equally grateful for the big wide world when the time comes to release them at the end of March. They get fresh twigs in their cages every day, and I wonder whether they can tell, by the condition of the buds, that spring will happen one day? As it is, they spend their day chasing each other around the cages, rearranging their nut supplies and chewing everything: toys, deer antler, mineral blocks, log perches, nest boxes – you name it, squirrel teeth can be used on it. As rodents, they have to keep chewing to trim their teeth. They also remember to take time to relax, and, when they do so, they groom each other in the most endearing way. (No, they do not come into sexual maturity for a few months yet.)
The campaigning activity on the part of those on two legs is very intense. As you may remember, at the end of December last year Natural England declared its intention to withdraw the licences from all rescue groups that deal with “alien” species. The decision is due to come into effect at the end of March and is based on new Invasive Alien Species legislation, a translation into British law of relevant EU regulations. We have been campaigning to make rescue exempt from this legislation, because we do not import or breed these animals, but take them from the wild in the interest of their welfare and return them where they came from.
The petition on this matter has gathered over 40,000 signatures, which is a very good result for a parliamentary petition. At 10,000 the government responded, with what was essentially a non-response. Fortunately, a lot of signatories complained to the Petitions Committee about this, and the response has been sent back to the government with a “do better” note.
The campaign has been supported by major organizations, most notably Wildlife Aid, home of TV Wildlife SOS and Animal Aid. The RSPCA (go figure!) and the British Veterinary Zoological Society have also made supportive statements. The issue has been featured in The Independent, as well as the Veterinary Times and several local papers.
As a result of several rescue groups writing to the MPs (and my son Jonny carrying a very heavy sack to the post office) three written parliamentary questions have been submitted. What we need now is for the MPs to raise an objection when the new legislation is presented in Parliament. It is known as a Statutory Instrument and will just go through without a vote unless there are objections. We are encouraging people to write to their MPs on this matter. Fingers crossed for those objections!