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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Wildcats to be reintroduced in the UK

This is going to be interesting. As the Telegraph reports, tens of thousands of wildcats once roamed Britain before they were hunted and killed from the 1700s onwards, due to fears they would target lambs, rabbits and poultry. The last English wildcat population was wiped out on Exmoor near the River Exe just over a century ago. Only a small population now survives in the north of Scotland.

Now, Ben Goldsmith, a City financier and Tory donor who was appointed to the board of Mr Gove’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last month, and who has already spent £200,000 on supporting the ­reintroduction of beavers to southern England, has told Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, that he is willing to bankroll the reintroduction of wildcats to help cull the grey squirrel population:

Derek Gow, the UK’s leading expert on mammal re-introductions, has ­already drawn up a briefing for ministers ahead of a meeting with nature conservation organisations next month.

Mr Goldsmith continued: “Some of the smaller mammal species and bird species that have been missing could pretty easily be brought back without impacting much on people’s way of life.”

Any reintroduction of wildcats to England would be done in conjunction with farmers and local people, to try to ensure there would be no impact on crops or livestock.

Mr Gow said forestry organisations were very keen on the idea, and that wildcats were “absolutely not a species that presents anyone with a problem. They are a small mammal specialist hunter, hunting rabbits, field voles and grey squirrels.

“Grey squirrels exist at very high density quite commonly. These cats would certainly kill them.”

He added: “One of the reasons why grey squirrels do such damage in forest environments is that we have taken out the predators.”

I don't have a huge problem with this plan. Grey Squirrels, as this article explains are not native to the UK. As with other non-indigenous species they have had a huge impact on other wildlife, particularly the red squirrel.

Being larger than red squirrels and capable of storing up to four times more fat, grey squirrels necessarily stand a greater chance of surviving tough winter conditions. On top of this, competition is increased by their ability to produce more young and live at higher densities.

But the main threat is that Grey squirrels are carriers of the Squirrel pox virus, which the reds have no immunity to. It needs only one grey squirrel to introduce the virus to a local population of red squirrels for the virus to take a hold and spread throughout the entire group, with devastating effects. Where a grey squirrel has introduced Squirrel pox, population decline amongst red squirrels is 17-25 times more rapid than through competition alone.

It seems to me that reintroduce balance amongst species in the wild is a much more humane solution than a cull and that this will give the red squirrel a fighting chance to re-establish itself.
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