For more than forty years the grey squirrel has been woodland owners’ number one enemy. I have known foresters who have been driven to distraction over the pest. On a tour of Forestry Commission woods in the north of England we were treated to Squirrel Pie, shot by the rangers and made from the hindquarters by their wives. They are a serious pest.
Sometimes they kill the whole tree by stripping the bark, more often they ‘ringbark’ the leading shoot, causing it to break off, turning the tree into a misshapen overgrown shrub. With us the oak is the most common casualty and the one we least want to lose.
I have trapped squirrels with moderate enthusiasm down the years. With so many scattered woods to look after there’s no prospect of making a major impact. Even if you clear every squirrel from your own wood, they simply move across from your neighbours’. My hope has been that, with new trees so thickly planted, enough will escape damage to fill the final wood.
Now the National Forest, with millions of trees to protect, is seeking to encourage concerted action. Volunteers are sought to stand guard with air rifles over baited traps. And there is the prospect of a ‘multiple trap’, a ‘gas gun’ fired device which will keep killing them till the gas runs out. We live in hope, but maybe it’ll be like the miracle bomb, promise of which kept Hitler’s troops fighting in the dying days of the war.