Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Price of Success

I photographed this grey squirrel on Wimbledon Common on Sunday, where it was scavenging picnic leftovers and delighting young children with its antics.


People have strong opinions about grey squirrels. There are some, who refer to them as grey ‘tree rats’, who would like to see them exterminated in Britain ……………… but back at the end of the nineteenth century there were plenty of landowners who had the same attitude towards native red ‘tree rats’. In 1903 the Highland Squirrel Club was formed  and over the next 30 years killed 85,000 red squirrels in an attempt to protect their forests from what was then seen as a pest. Earlier still, in the 1830s, 20,000 red sqirrels were sold annually by butchers in Leadenhall and Newgate markets in London, anticipating today's growing trade in grey squirrel meat.

I guess there’s a lesson in there somewhere – that it doesn’t pay any wildlife in Britain – native or introduced – to be too successful. Himalayan balsam, Canada geese, ring-necked parakeets, ruddy ducks, sparrowhawks, ivy, foxes, magpies and even peregrine falcons, red kites and sea eagles – to name but a few – have all become the focus of wildlife zealots because they are just too successful. I can see the sense in defending remaining strongholds of red squirrels against their grey counterparts, but elsewhere it seems pointless to expend resources on killing them at the same time as our affluent, effluent society provides them with virtually unlimited food resources in our garbage.

Maybe the lesson for grey squirrels is to adopt a lower profile - as this one seemed to be doing......

14 comments:

  1. Well said Phil. It just doesn't seem right to me that humankind should get the say on which species is allowed to survive and which is culled. I especially agree with the point you make about us providing these wild animals with our discarded leftovers. Rats have attracted a particularly bad reputation. They're seen as disease-ridden pests..... yet they must be thriving on all the half-finished take-away meals that litter the streets, etc This is a very sore point with me.

    ReplyDelete
  2. These are really good photographs and as usual the text is informative and entertaining.
    I like them. I don't believe they physically drive out Reds. In Patterdale they seem to co-exist. I understand that greys carry a pox to which they are resistant and the reds aren't. Same end result but no malicious intent.
    The Greys are also braver and possibly brighter so will climb to the top of the tree........Sorry for that.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Phil, these pictures are superb. I reckon you had him eating out of your hand lol

    I think if mankind were to just stop meddling in nature, nature will sort out everything given a chance.
    I've got very strong views on this; probably too strong to air on a blog. I'd end up getting put away lol

    ReplyDelete
  4. "I reckon you had him eating out of your hand"

    There are loads of Squirrels in the grounds of Edinburgh Botanic Gardens. As they're very tame I put my hand out to pet one and it thought I was offering it a tit-bit. It sunk its teeth into my finger and wouldn't let go for what seemed like ages. For about an hour after that, I felt like passing out.... it's teeth were like razor blades. Luckily my tetanus was up to date. On my next visit to the gardens, I was armed with a bag of peanuts. :)

    Yes, the photos are wonderful Phil. I don't think anyone could deny that they are cute little animals.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yes indeed, be it a grey squirrel or a branson we don't seem to like super-success especially if it comes with a brash and/or noisy demenour.

    At the height of the 'our delightful otters are being driven to the brink of doom by those nasty horrible American mink invaders' period, I listened to an expert on mink try in vain to encourage a natural history society audience to take a more balanced and long term view and perhaps appreciate the finer points of the mink. But the knives were out. Fast forward 20 years and the view from here is very different.

    Maybe everyone who gets agitated by grey squirrels would now be better unwinding themselves on this one and focussing their energy instead on the unstoppable and insidious destruction of habitat.

    ReplyDelete
  6. A very thought provoking post.Although I consider squirrels as irritating thieves who rob me of my pomogranates and custard apples, I have a niggling doubt that I stole their land with wild fruit, first. The pictures are lovely.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Hi Lesley, they have sharp claws too. Years ago I had a baby grey squirrel dumped on me and when it grew up it used to jump from the curtain rail onto my head.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Adrian, the greys are incredibly resourceful and versatile, while the reds are pretty picky about the resources they need - I guess there's a moral there....

    ReplyDelete
  9. I'm with you on this Keith - I don't have much time for people who claim to be maintaining the mythical 'balance of nature' by selectively slaughtering species.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Quite agree about the priority being habitat conservation Nyctalus. Trying to maintain nature as a living museum of species, anchored in one particular point in time when everything in the garden was rosy, seems daft..

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi lotusleaf, squirrels occasionally show up in my garden but so far they haven't been too much of a problem.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Lesley, I've quite often walked past rubbish bins on urban parks and looked inside to find a grey squirrel rummaging amongst the leftovers..........

    ReplyDelete
  13. Astounding photos Phil. I guess you got down to squirrel level for those.
    Hardly seen any around the village this year. I wonder if the hard Winter has reduced their numbers.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Phil, I agree with you, I was a member of the RSPB and I was not happy about their policy on killing the Ruddy Duck, and I believe it is taxpayers money that has been paying for this, and I hope this money is included in the governments plans of cut backs.

    ReplyDelete