The Grey Squirrel – Cute and Cuddly or Rats with Tails?

Many people assume they have a rat problem when in fact they have a squirrel infestation. There are some similarities in the signs, such as:

  • Droppings

  • Urine smell

  • Damage to property

  • Noises, such as scratching and rustling

However, a squirrel infestation is not the same as a rodent infestation and can’t be treated in the same way.

This week we’re looking at why it’s sometimes necessary to carry out lethal control of grey squirrels and what people can do to make sure they don’t invite a squirrel problem.

Squirrels can be very destructive. The grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) is considered an invasive pest and not native to the UK. In the UK, grey squirrel numbers are increasing along with the damage they cause. And, it’s not just damage to homes, property and the rural economy that the grey squirrel can cause, there are two very important environmental concerns to consider:

The Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)

The red squirrel is indigenous to the UK. However, its cousin the grey squirrel is responsible for the significant decline in our native species. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust reports that, without action, the red squirrel will become extinct in England within 10 years! The Wildlife Trusts estimates there are only around 140,000 native red squirrels left in the UK compared to 2.5 million grey squirrels. That’s very sad for our native species. And, as 90% of the UK is populated by grey squirrels, many people will never see a red squirrel in their lifetimes. As well a competing for food and shelter the grey squirrel carries squirrelpox unaffected, but if the red squirrel contracts the disease it will usually die of dehydration within 2 weeks.

Destruction of UK forests

Grey squirrels cause major damage to UK forests as well as having an impact on native wildlife. Apart from the decline in red squirrels, the grey squirrel raids bird nests which puts a strain on bird life as well. And, because they strip bark, the base of trees becomes weakened and eventually dies.

We all know that wood and forests play an important part in the fight against global warming so it’s important to protect our wooded areas.

The grey squirrel, here in the UK and Europe, is classed as an Invasive Alien Species (IAS) and as such is recognised as being in the top worst 100 such species in the world.

An IAS is any animal that is not native to the UK.

Because grey squirrels are an invasive pest species the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 states that it is against the law to re-release a grey squirrel if it’s been caught alive. That means a professional pest controller is legally obliged to dispatch any grey squirrel they catch alive.

What damage can squirrels cause in the home?

Well, they chew wood work and ceilings and they strip insulation from electrical wires. They often tear up fibre glass insulation and they contaminate cold water tanks with urine and droppings. Squirrels are most active in the 4-5 hours before day break and they are loud! Often people report that the loud noises disrupt sleep. In gardens and allotments squirrels take fruit, raid nests of small birds and dig holes to bury food.

How do I know if I have a squirrel infestation?

Well, as we said to begin with, often people assume they have a rat problem but there are other signs to look out for such as:

  • Bark stripped from trees, particularly at the base which causes the tree to weaken and eventually die

  • Bird feeders disturbed and / or bird food being taken

  • Holes in vents or damage to insulation foam

  • Bird nests being raided

  • Sightings – often the best way to determine if you have a squirrel problem is simply to keep your eyes open. Squirrels regularly come out to find food so often you’ll see them

What to do if you have a squirrel problem?

As we always say, prevention is better than cure.

  1. Habitat management: make sure you cut back trees or branches that overhang buildings, trim back bushes and dense ivy. Make sure you prevent access to roof spaces.

  2. Proof entry points: block gaps and holes. B