Closed season campaign


At Urban Squirrels, we are opposed to all wildlife culls in general, and to the pointless and cruel culls of our clients, the grey squirrels, in particular.

One of our anti-cull campaigns involves calling for a closed season in planned culls. Ideally, all killing should stop, but this would be a good first step, and save at least some lives.

As an introduced species (brought from America 150 years ago), grey squirrels can be, and are, killed all the year round. It means that nursing mothers can be killed in the baby season, February to September, which is particularly cruel, because their babies are simply left to slowly die in the nests.

Whatever one’s opinion of the ecological impact of grey squirrels might be (please see for more information, and, for academic references), it is generally accepted that culling should be conducted in a humane way. When nursing mothers are killed, their babies are left to slowly starve to death, which is far from humane. A closed season would prevent a lot of unnecessary suffering.

On the 7th of December 2020 we launched a parliamentary petition asking the UK government to introduce a closed season in the culling of grey squirrels. Please consider signing and sharing it, if you have not done so already

The petition received a lot of support and quickly reached the 10,000 signatures necessary for an official response from the government. On the 10th of February 2021 such a response was given. Please follow the petition link to read it.

Urban Squirrels considers the response disappointing, though hardly surprising. Our main objections to it are that it is (a) unsubstantiated and (b) contains information that is factually incorrect.

If, by the government’s own admission, the population of grey squirrels increased in spite of highly organised wide-spread culls that caused immense suffering and wasted millions of tax-payers’ money, what is the justification for continuing? Nature has a way of balancing itself out. If grey squirrels are killed, the population re-establishes itself within a few weeks. Culls are both cruel and ineffective, as well as expensive (Harris, et al., ‘Is culling of grey squirrels a viable tactic to conserve red squirrel populations?’, Bristol University, 2008.) No justification of the government’s decision is provided in the response to the petition. We are simply told that a closed season would make the culls less effective, but we are not told what is considered “effective” and how this is measured.

To link between the killing of grey squirrels with the need to protect the red squirrel population is factually incorrect. Red squirrels are not an endangered species, their global conservation status  being that of “least concern”. Nor are they native to this country in terms of their lineage: they are, genetically speaking, a mixed bag, products of recent introductions from Continental Europe (Hale, et al., ‘Patterns of genetic diversity in the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris L.): Footprints of biogeographic history and artificial introductions.’, University of Newcastle, 2003.) How can continued cruelty to grey squirrels be justified by a need to preserve a species that is neither endangered nor properly native?

Furthermore, it is an established fact that red squirrels became virtually extinct in Great Britain by the end of the 18th century, before grey squirrels were introduced – something that happened because of habitat loss. (Harris, et al., ‘Is culling of grey squirrels a viable tactic to conserve red squirrel populations?’, Bristol University, 2008; Middleton, The Ecology of the American Grey Squirrel in the British Isles, 1930).Given that the habitat has only deteriorated since, how can it be justified to remove a species that is a good ecological fit to the current British conditions, the grey squirrel, in order to promote a less adaptable species, the red squirrel, that has already been proven unable to survive unaided in most parts of the UK?

The government’s response contains an emotional description of the death of a red squirrel from squirrel pox. This is an argument that rather misses the point. The process of disease transmission is such that red squirrels are far more likely to get it from each other (via shared feeders in areas where they are artificially maintained) rather than from grey squirrels (Chantrey et al., ‘European red squirrel population dynamics driven by squirrelpox at a gray squirrel invasion interface’, Ecology and Evolution, 2014).