Feb 03 Grey squirrel control workshop By Tracy

John Bailey from Sussex Environmental Pest Solutions led us in a morning workshop about grey squirrels. We learned about their origin, their impact on British woodlands and different methods of population control.

The grey squirrel was introduced to the UK in the mid-19th century, mainly spreading from Woburn Park, Bedfordshire and as they have no natural predators their numbers have soared.  It is estimated that there are now over 2 million grey squirrels in the UK!
This is typical damage to a young oak which has been ringbarked. It may survive as a pollard, but will never be a full grown tree.

When the populations are over 5 per hectare, the greys are known to kill native trees through stripping of the cambium layer. They usually eat the sap from trees that are 10 – 40 years old and the damage in some woodlands can mean that some trees will not make maturity.

(Photo of a dray.)

Grey Squirrels also compete for food, nest sites and space with our native wildlife e.g. dormice, tawny owls, kestrel, woodpeckers, tree creepers, nuthatch, jay etc.  Large populations of grey squirrels can cause instability to the carrying capacity of the woodland ecosystem which is the maximum population level supported by the environment.

To assess if you need to implement squirrel control before damage takes place, you could look for damage in neighbouring/adjoining woodlands or carry out a visual assessment to see if the numbers are above 5 per hectare.  Look at the damage to trees, watch to see where their favourite feeding places are and then chose a method of control.

There are a number of control methods:
1.    Hire an experienced squirrel trapper like John.  This will ensure the populations are controlled with the minimum of fuss and cost.( [email protected])

2.    Buy traps – the different types are detailed below.  You should also note that traps must by law be checked daily, Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Section 11.
3.    Buy an airgun to shoot them. You will need to be sure you are able to shoot to kill, not injure and must check the law and all safety considerations.

Trap Types
    One of the safest traps to set; is species specific and probably the most powerful trap you could use.    Approx £50 each and you would require around 7-10 per ha.

Wooden tunnel MK4/MK6 Fenn trap    Sited in places and runs used by squirrels, highly successful method of clearing large number of squirrels. They must be placed inside a tunnel by law.    Approx £50 for ten  and you would require around 7-10 per ha.  This does not include the cost of making the tunnels.

Clear the ground where you are going to lay the trap.

Pin it to the ground

and cover with a wooden run. You must do this part to protect other animals from the trap. You can also disguise it. John will pre bait areas for a few days before setting the traps too.

Multi/Single Cage Traps    These traps keep the captured squirrel alive, which then of course, means you will need to kill them later.    £80 for a multi cage trap; £30 for single cage trap and around 4 multi cage traps would be required.

Good bait to use is maize, peanuts and peanut butter. The best time of year to control the squirrel numbers is February and July when they are breeding.

So, will the biodiversity of your woodland benefit if other woodland owners are not controlling numbers?

John from Sussex EPS says yes, based on personal experience your woodland will benefit long term.  You could always try and keep survey records before and after control to give you tangible evidence of improved biodiversity.  Richard and Sandra told us by email how much the bird population has increased in their woodland since controlling the squirrel numbers. A really important point that John made, was that a management plan that does not include pest control will be pretty ineffective. Biodiversity will not increase if we do not manage pest numbers.

If you have personal experience of this it would be great to hear about it.

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