Ynys Môn MP Virginia Crosbie has urged the government to implement measures to reduce the population of grey squirrels and protect their rarer red cousins that thrive on Anglesey.
Virginia led a debate on the issue in parliament this week. She is an honorary member of the Red Squirrels Trust Wales.
Speaking in Westminster Hall, the MP said: “In the UK, there are now an estimated 280,000 red squirrels. That is just 10% of the grey squirrel population. I am fortunate that many of those red squirrels reside on my island constituency of Ynys Môn in north Wales, which has been grey squirrel free since 2016.
“An estimated 60% of the Welsh red squirrel population thrive in woodlands such as the Dingle in Llangefni, Penrhos on Ynys Gybi, Newborough forest and the National Trust’s Plas Newydd.
“In 2018, a review of the population and conservation status of British mammals noted a significant decline in UK red squirrel populations over the preceding two decades everywhere except Scotland. The report identified that the decline was due to diseases such as squirrel pox and adenovirus; competition with grey squirrels for resources; deterioration in habitat quality; and a failure to implement effective measures to control grey squirrel populations.”
Virginia called on a series of measures including trapping, shooting, the expansion of the pine marten population – the grey squirrels natural predator - and immunocontraception - the use of fertility control methods to reduce grey squirrel numbers.
A squirrel pox vaccine would also help, she explained.
“Grey squirrels are carriers of the virus, but they rarely contract it, and squirrel pox outbreaks among red squirrels are generally linked to grey squirrel encroachment on their territory. Squirrel pox kills red squirrels 17 to 25 times faster than it kills greys, and a single outbreak can wipe out an entire local red squirrel population.”
Virginia added the Wildlife Ark Trust is now leading on fundraising to develop a vaccine, and several countries are listed as supporters. “It would be fantastic to see the UK listed alongside them,” she said.
She also called on the government to publish an updated grey squirrel action plan.
In reply DEFRA minister Rebecca Pow said: “To get to the nuts and bolts of today’s debate, we have a grey squirrel action plan, championed by DEFRA, which sets out our actions to manage the squirrels in England.
“I can assure members that that will be published shortly. It is a refreshed five-year plan that will concentrate on advice and incentives for land managers, more collaboration and partnerships, and funding and research as appropriate.”