In December 2018 rescue centres that deal with “alien” species, such as the grey squirrel, received an email from Natural England, the licensing body, stating that their licences to keep and release these animals are going to be revoked at the end of March 2019, under the new Invasive Alien Species Order (Enforcement and Permitting) 2019. The Order is still in draft form, but is expected to be laid before Parliament in the near future.
A campaign was started to make rescue exempted from this legislation. The campaigners argue that rescue numbers are too small to make a difference to overall squirrel numbers, but very significant in terms of the compassion footprint of humanity. Furthermore, many of them believe that the environmental impact of grey squirrels is misrepresented in the policy-making process.
A parliamentary petition was started at bit.ly/SquirrelPetition . If the number of signatures reaches 100,000 the issue will be debated in Parliament.
Many organizations joined in with the campaigning. Animal Aid, Wildlife Aid Foundation, Secret World Rescue and Urban Squirrels are perhaps the most active. The RSPCA and the British Veterinary Zoological Society made supportive statements.
These organizations, as well as several other groups and many private individuals, wrote to Defra and contacted various MPs. Several questions on this matter were asked and answered in Parliament.
The press picked up the story, with articles appearing in The Times, The Mirror, The Independent, The Church Times, Vet Times, as well as several local newspapers and animal protection magazines.
By the beginning of March, the campaign achieved two significant concessions. The government announced that licences to keep will still be issued in future after all, and that the current keep and release licences are being extended till October.
The campaigners welcome these steps, but point out that it is not enough to save grey squirrel rescue. If rescue centres are not allowed to release the animals they take in, they cannot continue their work. The “residential” places will soon be filled up, and they will be back to square one: having to turn away or kill the animals they are supposed to help.
The full text of the Order was published on March 11
The contents are as we feared: there will be a way to get permission to keep, but not to release. The process of adopting this legislation is worse than we feared: there will not be any parliamentary procedure at all, we have simply been given notice that the Order is coming into effect on October 1.