The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) has recommended that grey squirrel control in England’s broadleaved woodland be given the same priority as deer management and fighting disease. The recommendations are based on the results of a survey completed by 755 woodland owners and managers, and the RFS has submitted a report on its findings to the Forestry Commission England (FCE) as part of its review of its policy on grey squirrels in England’s woodland. Environment Minister Owen Paterson has also been sent a copy of the report.

Detailing responses to the survey, the report says: “Grey squirrels are considered to represent the greatest threat to England’s broadleaved woodlands, marginally ahead of tree diseases and well ahead of deer.” It continues: “No single or combination of methods of grey squirrel control is considered very effective. Woodland owners and managers who invest in a rigorous and intensive regime of shooting, trapping and poisoning are often able to keep squirrel populations under control and minimise damage to trees. Even this does not guarantee success and is too time-consuming and expensive for many woodland owners. The prospect that the EU will no longer permit the use of warfarin as bait simply makes an unsatisfactory situation worse.”

The RFS’s development director, Simon Lloyd, said: “Protecting the health of our woods is the Government’s highest forestry policy priority but, compared with tree diseases, there is very little scientific research available on grey squirrel controls and very little support for woodland owners to tackle the problem. Woodland owners and managers need financial and practical support to help manage this threat to the health of our woods. This is not only about keeping grey squirrel numbers under control where trees are most vulnerable to damage, but also about adapting woodland management to reduce the risk.

“To date, the focus of financial support for squirrel control has been on protecting red squirrel habitats. That has done little to prevent grey squirrel damage to broadleaved woods escalating elsewhere in the country.

“Without adequate protection and adaptive management, many broadleaved woods planted in recent years risk ending up as scrub rather than reaching their potential for timber, or landscape and habitat value, and that is not an effective use of grants used to help plant them. The high risk of squirrel damage to broadleaved species such as oak and beech is a disincentive to planting them. Ash, which is relatively resistant to squirrel damage, is no longer a viable alternative. Our woodland heritage is therefore put at risk because of the grey squirrel.”

The RFS’s recommendations to the FCE include increasing public awareness of the threat posed by grey squirrels; establishing a research programme to look into understanding bark-stripping behaviour and finding more effective control methods; giving financial support for grey squirrel control — especially in high-risk stands — and setting up control groups to co-ordinate grey squirrel management on “a landscape scale”.

For a copy of the RFS report, visit squirrel_survey_report_Jan_2014.pdf.