The Morpeth Herald originally printed the following article on the 23/02/08:
A letter was sent in to the Morpeth Herald by Neil Macmillan who campaigns for Grey-Squirrel.org.uk, and was printed on 28th February 2008
I was interested to read your story, Grey squirrel war 'far from over' (21 Feb) suggesting that grey squirrels could be wiped out in Northumberland by summer.
If, and it is a big "if", the grey squirrels are indeed spreading squirrelpox virus to reds, the supposed success of wiping out grey squirrels in Northumberland is a disaster. If the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership have indeed wiped out such large numbers, then the area will be a virtually competition free area for grey squirrels, meaning greys from surrounding areas will spread in to the area, breeding extremely successfully and the result will be an even higher population density in Northumberland than before. However, a cynical person might suggest that this could be the idea - to get a rather hefty government pay cheque to enjoy some blood thirsty fun, indefinately.
However, getting back to the big "if", I'd like to point out that there is plenty of evidence that Red Squirrels were dying of Squirrelpox before they'd even had contact with Grey Squirrels in the early 1900s. There is also evidence that Grey Squirrels and Red Squirrels have lived together for extended periods of 20 years or so.
Also, when contacted under the Freedom of Information Act, the Forestry Commission couldn't say whether there are any red squirrels showing resistance, because there is no testing of live red squirrels. About all they know is that squirrelpox may have been fatal to those dead red squirrels who clearly display symptoms of the virus, and display the characteristic lesions. There is one documented case of a red squirrel surviving SQPV in captivity, so the virus isn't fatal in its own right, but rather makes them unable to find food and shelter so easily because they are feeling so unwell, thereby being the major factor in their death. However, a healthy squirrel in good habitat (of which there will hopefully be more if the forestry commission continues working to improve coniferous forest habitat) has a much better chance of fighting off the virus.
So a suggestion that the virus is fatal to all red squirrels is not currently backed up by any evidence at all. The major question to be answered is why the red squirrel population has not declined at a faster rate if they have virtually no resistance to the virus. And why, despite the massive campaign to protect the Red Squirrels which are supposedly dying out by the second, only a relative handful of Red Squirrels been found dead, with no guarantee at all that SQPV was even a direct cause? Surely if the Grey Squirrels were indeed wiping them out, there'd be no shortage of Red Squirrels found dead?
There is also little regard taken for the fact that red squirrels pass the virus on to other red squirrels when they share dreys. Grey squirrels may share dreys with reds and may well be a factor in the spread of the virus but there is no reason to suspect it's a more important problem than the red squirrels passing it on to each other, given the reds are in much closer proximity to each other.
This is simply yet another example of creating a crisis and getting paid to fix it, while getting the side benefit of promoting "endangered" red squirrels as a tourist attraction.
If your readers are interested in getting some further information, they may wish to visit the website grey-squirrel.org.uk
Sally Hardy of Ponteland Red Squirrels, sent in a letter of reply to the Morpeth Herald, printed on 13th March 2008
Squirrels: Why the greys remain a threat
SIR, I was very disappointed that you printed the letter from Neil Macmillan, aka Prof Acorn, ('Herald', February 28), not only because he does not even reside in the Borough, but also because he is giving incorrect and misleading information about red and greys squirrels.
For once and for all, I'd like to clarify some of the issues regarding the reason why grey squirrels are a threat to reds.
- They carry squirrel pox virus. It is harmless to the grey, but deadly for the red and can wipe out whole populations of reds within weeks. We have had numerous outbreaks in Northumberland within the past fews months including Wallington, Belsay, Bellingham, Bolam Lake and more recently suspected outbreaks at Gosforth Park and Swarland.
- They compete for habitat and food. They are much larger than our smaller native red squirrel and therefore consume much more food, depleting the availability of natural food for the reds and thus causing increased starvation among red populations. Lack of food also can cause ceasation of breeding in female red squirrels.
- They have systematically taken over all red squirrel habitats in the South and Midland regions of mainland UK and are now threatening the last strongholds of the red squirrel in England Northumberland and Cumbria
- Without intervention and control of grey squirrels our native red squirrels in Cumbria would have already been extinct
- Without continued control red squirrels in Northumberland and Cumbria could be extinct in a few years
- Reds and Greys cannot cohabit. Without grey control reds WILL disappear from an area once there is an influx of grey squirrels within approximately two years or much less if the pox virus is presented.
The only effective way to save our native red squirrels is through grey control. We are still lucky enough to have a choice in Northumberland.
Recently, volunteer groups across the North have united under an umbrella group, Northern Red Squirrels. Volunteer action is the key to the continued existence of our red squirrels. We aim to encourage coordinated volunteer action and enable openness and collaboration amongst volunteers and also the funded groups.
Northern Red Squirrels already has nearly 40 voluntary member groups involved across the North, and are hoping to increase this number to 'close all the gaps' to ensure effective action.
Northern Red Squirrels is committed to red conservation and aims to do this through; raising awareness of our red squirrels; education: effective, coordinated grey control; highlighting and tackling issues such as habitat loss, effective habitat management and road kill.
If you want to get involved and become part of Northern Red Squirrels please visit our website, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 07846 900924. Help us to make a difference.
Ponteland Red Squirrels
(sourced from Morpeth Herald: http://www.morpethherald.co.uk/readers-letters/Squirrels-Why-the-greys-remain.3872906.jp )
Neil replied the following week with a letter to the Morpeth Herald, which was printed on the 20th March 2008
Why continue witch hunt of grey squirrels?
SIR, I read with little surprise the letter from Sally of Ponteland Red Squirrels ('Herald', March 13) who yet again forcefully states fiction as fact, hoping that the lack of scientific origin will go un-noticed.
It is correct that grey squirrels can carry squirrelpox virus, but so also can reds. Given the much closer proximity of reds to other reds, it is likely that they will spread the disease within the population far faster than greys ever could. However, given how "deadly" Sally believes this disease is, it is rather strange that there aren't red squirrels lying dead all over the county. As I mentioned in my previous letter, there is a distinct possibility that red squirrels are showing resistance to squirrelpox, hence why they're not all dying out "within weeks". This is how all animals evolve to combat disease - some die out but those that survive will go on to be part of a stronger healthier community.
The lack of habitat and food for red squirrels has very little to do with grey squirrels. Humans have been systematically destroying coniferous woodland in Britain, which is good habitat for reds, and poor for greys.
The urbanisation of Britain has also very much suited the bolder grey squirrel who'll happily live among humans, while leaving the very shy red squirrel stressed and prone to disease.
There is nothing systematic about the way grey squirrels breed and spread.
This is the talk of someone who wishes to demonise grey squirrels by making them seem to have a military intent of destroying the reds. They're simply breeding based on the habitat available, and spreading where there is new habitat that suits their needs. This is common to all animals, including red squirrels.
Without intervention and control, there'd have been no Government money wasted on a pointless witch hunt of grey squirrels, and red squirrels would still be surviving in small numbers where humans aren't yet pushing them out.
Is it any surprise that red squirrels are in greatest numbers to the North where the population density of humans is lowest, and the best coniferous forest habitat is available?
If Sally and her red squirrel exploiting followers want to do some genuine good, they could use their influence to encourage landowners to keep, and extend coniferous forests, and stop wasting money on grey squirrel traps, which will just reduce the population density of grey squirrels temporarily, only to cause an influx from surrounding areas which will lead to an even higher population density as they arrive in an empty habitat with no competition, allowing them to breed very successfully.
Sally mentions that Red and Grey squirrels cannot cohabit, but this is completely false. There is plenty of evidence to show that they can live together for periods as long as 20 years, so her randomly chosen figure of two years has absolutely no basis in fact, and is purely propoganda for her scientifically questionable campaign.
Again, your readers may wish to visit the website grey-squirrel.org.uk for further information, all of which is most certainly based on the best available scientific research.
(sourced from Morpeth Herald: http://www.morpethherald.co.uk/readers-letters/Why-continue-witch-hunt-of.3896930.jp )
Given the distance from Grey-Squirrel.org.uk HQ to Morpeth, we are reliant on the Morpeth Herald publishing letters on their site, which they don't always do. We therefore can't confirm whether Sally Hardy replied to this letter, but no letter has appeared on the Morpeth Herald website. If anyone has a copy of any further letter written by Sally Hardy, we'd be very interested to see it, and print it on this page. We suspect however, she had no reply to give.
Native by Birth - Condemned by Origin