Grey squirrels need controlling because they are causing major economic, social and environmental damage to the broadleaved woodlands of the United Kingdom.
The grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) was introduced to the UK from North America in 1876 and its population has grown rapidly since then.
The problem of grey squirrels was first recognised in 1930 when a law was passed making it illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild. Today it is estimated that could be as many as 3 million grey squirrels in the UK and this number continues to grow.
The findings of the 2014 Forestry Commission is that more could be done to improve effectiveness of grey squirrel control, and that the approach to red squirrel conservation is working but needs to be sustained. Where grey squirrels are causing problems, landowners and managers are critical to effective control of the species, by taking responsibility for controlling grey squirrels on their land. It is not practical to fully remove greys from areas where they are already established, but targeted control is often necessary. Grey Squirrels and England’s Woodlands is report jointly prepared with Defra
Bede is a former Royal Forestry Society President (197 – 1999) and is known for his tireless
campaigning for excellence in British Forestry. He was awarded the Royal Forestry Society’s Gold Medal
in 2012 for his distinguished services to the profession.
For Bede, one of the challenges facing today’s woodland managers and planners remains
the devastation caused by grey squirrels.
Woodland Heritage 2015 Journal
He says ” I continue to be astonished by the money being spent planting trees and woodlands
which, because of the grey squirrel, will never be able to able to reach timber quality. ……”
Forest damage and the impact on the UK’s woodland industry
Grey squirrels damage our forests by stripping bark from trees’ main trunks (at the base and up in the canopy) and branches. Severe damage can kill a tree while milder cases involve bad scarring and substantial epicormic  growth.
Scars left by bark stripping can also be an entry point for other tree pests and diseases – making trees more vulnerable to such threats.
Young tree damage
Damage on young trees often results in tree mortality, as there is less bark to remove before the tree is ring-barked a major concern to timber growers. DEFRA  -commissioned study estimated that grey squirrels cost the British economy £14m per annum (ref: The Economic Cost of Invasive Non-Native Species on Great Britain 2010)
A range of trees is damaged
Grey squirrels target a range of trees, but their preferred species appear to be beech, field maple, oak, sycamore, hornbeam, willow and silver birch. This seriously threatens the UK’s woodland industry, as these species make up large proportions of its young woodlands in the midlands and south and southwest England. Given tree disease problems facing Ash through Chalara (Ash has escaped the damaging attentions of grey squirrels), it will become increasingly important to protect our remaining tree stock not currently affected by other pests and diseases. It is acknowledged now that conifers are also be damaged by Grey Squirrels.
As well as being a key disincentive to planting broadleaved and coniferous trees for timber by reducing the crop’s value, the problem threatens biodiversity. Potential loss of vulnerable species such as beech within woodlands’ mature canopies could lead to loss of associated fungal and invertebrate faunas and their predators.
The impact of grey squirrels also limits the diversity of woodland planting, which reduces potential resilience to pests, disease and climate change.
The Peter Savill award is made annually to a person who, in the opinion of the WH Trustees has made a significant contribution to British Forestry
Bede Howell O.B.E.