THE ONLY HOPE for the luckless grey squirrel that somehow wandered into the wrong part of Scotland appears to be keeping well away of some well-laid traps.
Appeals for the life of the squirrel spotted in Elgin and dubbed ‘Elgin Sweetie’ have fallen on deaf ears, with the organisation formed to protect ‘native’ red squirrels insisting that it would be illegal not to kill the squirrel should it be caught.
Thousands reacted to insideMoray’s story this week in which the Interactive Centre for Scientific Research about Squirrels (ICSRS) insisted that there was no need to kill the animal, with their having made arrangements for it to be relocated if caught.
However, in a letter to local press Steve Willis, who is project officer for the north east Scotland section of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS), has insisted that Elgin Sweetie would need to die if he is caught – by law.
Mr Willis said: “The residents of Elgin have been extremely supportive and are quite rightly concerned for their resident red squirrels. A live-capture cage trap was set up in a garden – when the grey squirrel is caught it will be dispatched humanely.
“To release a grey squirrel into the wild is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – it is also an offence to keep a grey squirrel in captivity in Scotland. Any wildlife groups aiming to translocate this animal should be aware of this.
“Our aim is to trap and remove the grey squirrel to protect the native red squirrels that thrive in and around Elgin – there is a risk that the grey could have come from an area of Scotland with squirrel pox virus – this would have disastrous consequences for the red squirrels.”
Thousands of people joined insideMoray’s appeal to spare the life of the Elgin Sweetie, with ICSRS spokesman Peter Matthew insisting that the threat of squirrel pox did not really hold up.
He said: “Scientific research showed that grey squirrels in central and northern Scotland don’t have pox virus, and recent studies have shown that there is more chance to win a lotto than for a grey squirrel to transmit the pox to red squirrel.
“Human intervention brought already too many problems for red squirrels and attempts to correct mistakes like destroying habitats or by killing other animals will never lead to anything good.”
Mr Matthew also questioned the validity of claims that the current red squirrel population was ‘native’ to the UK while grey’s were not. He said: “In the last 150 years red squirrels had to be introduced in various areas in the UK from the continent – mostly from Sweden and central Europe.
“It led to the situation – as confirmed by DNA study – that the vast majority of red squirrel population currently living in the UK are descendants of squirrels recently introduced from Scandinavia – often long after the introduction of grey squirrels to the UK.”
SSRS say that they first received reports of the Elgin Sweetie in November, and subsequently obtained photographs that confirmed it was a grey squirrel and was the first they were aware of ever having been seen in Moray.
They added that it was at least 60 miles from the nearest known breeding population of grey squirrels and it remained a mystery to them how it managed to find its way to Elgin.