The current population of grey squirrels in the UK is growing to the point that some of the country’s most loved trees are now being threatened, such as broadleaved trees like mature English oaks.
This is according to the Royal Forestry Society (RFS), which is now suggesting that an oral contraceptive be issued for these squirrels to help reverse the damage and ensure the survival of these trees – although the government and the forestry sector will both need to back a long-term commitment to provide funding for a five-year research programme.
Simon Lloyd, RFS chief executive, welcomed the news that the research has already received a £39,000 investment from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.
“It is pointless to plant oak and other broadleaved species where they are vulnerable to grey squirrel damage without a rigorous and sustained control programme. There is a high risk they will never take their place as a thing of beauty in the landscape or a valued source of high quality timber,” he observed.
Grey squirrels can cause all sorts of damage to trees and woodland areas. For example, between April and July, they strip the bark around the trunk, which can prevent trees from growing properly. RFS figures suggest that up to five per cent of damaged trees may die, while many more will have degraded timber value because of broken tops, rot and stem deformation.
Naturally regenerated or planted trees aged between ten and 40 years (particularly beech oak, sycamore and sweet chestnut), are the most vulnerable to damage.
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