Red squirrels, or sciurus vulgaris, live all across Northen Europe and parts of Siberia, but their numbers have been greatly reduced in the British Isles in recent years. This is due to the human introduction of the eastern grey squirrel, or sciurus carolinensis. These grey squirrels carry squirrel pox, which is fatal to their red counterparts, and it also damages broadleaf trees.
The decline in red squirrels, now totalling less than 140,000 compared to 3.5 million grey squirrels, in Britain has led to concern in the country, including from Prince Charles, who developed the UK Squirrel Accord three years ago. One possible solution finally emerged earlier this week. The plan is to feed the grey squirrels oral contraceptives hidden in Nutella, which would reduce the number of grey squirrels by over 90 percent. Prince Charles is said to prefer the plan because no squirrels will be harmed.
Testing on grey squirrels is set to begin soon, with the chairman of the Squirrel Accord saying, “It is the most exciting prospect I have seen. I don’t harbour a great extermination instinct, but I am interested in protecting our broadleaf trees and there being red squirrels around for my children to see.”
The contraceptives are being developed by the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in York, and it has received an initial £39,000 investment from Defra. The contraceptive could also be used to reduce the populations of wild board and badgers, without resorting to killing any animals. The plans were apparently discussed at a meeting hosted by Prince Charles at Clarence House on Monday, with members of the UK Squirrel Accord.
It is expected that scientists will need around £1million to carry out the five-year programme to test and license the contraceptive. Some £100,000 has already been raised from supporters of the Squirrel Accord.