If you read the Farmers' Guardian online you will have seen this rather lurid headlineAgreement on wholesale cull…of grey squirrels.  If you read the article then it quotes me as saying: Dr Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation, took part in Saturday’s (July 25) CLA debate on wildlife. He said: “If I could magic away the grey squirrel tomorrow, I would make that decision.”

The quote is accurate but the headline is not! 

In fact, my remarks were made in response to a CLA spokesperson who said something like "The species my members would most like to see killed are grey squirrel, mink and muntjac deer."  My response was something very close to this:  "Well, I don't think that my members would be nearly so keen on killing them.  But I can say that if I could click my fingers and magic them all away then I would click away.  Of course, in reality it isn't as easy as clicking your fingers and the practicalities, cost and a whole range of other issues means that it's nowhere near as simple.".  I said something like that and would stand by it. And by the way, I don't remember the Acting Chair of Natural England, Poul Christenson, signing up to a grey squirrel cull either but then he doesn't have his photo in the Farmers' Guardian - pity , he is much more handsome than I am!

Grey squirrels are known to be the major cause in the massive decline in numbers of our native red squirrel, American mink cause havoc for water voles and some ground-nesting birds, and muntjac deer are having massive impacts on our native woodlands.  All three are introduced species and there is evidence from all over the world that introducing non-native species into any country can cause major ecological, and sometimes economic, problems.  I'd click my fingers to magic them away - but that isn't an option.

Do you know anyone called Brocklehurst?  Apparently it was a Mr TV Brocklehurst from Henbury Park in Cheshire who has the strongest claim to having introduced the grey squirrel into the UK - in 1876.  There are about 58 Brocklehursts per million of the population in the UK - that's about 3600 of them.  Maybe we should ask them to round up all the grey squirrels and ship them back to the USA under the 'polluter pays' principle?  That's got as much chance of succeeding as any other plans to remove the UK's grey squirrels!

These things happen in the media.  Maybe the journalist who was present had nothing to do with the headline - maybe that was written by an excitable sub-editor who wasn't present on the day.  I'd defend a free press quite strongly, I'd be less keen on defending that 19th century Mr Brocklehurst, but I think we'll have to live with free squirrels for quite a while.

Anonymous