Experts consider ‘contraceptive pills’ for grey squirrel population

A contraceptive pill is being researched by the UK Squirrel Accord (UKCA) as a means of controlling the grey squirrel population. Grey squirrels are considered vermin, damaging the native red squirrel population, as well as broad leaf trees. Researchers are working to stop them reproducing at their current level, aiming to turn an injectable formula […]

Alex Walker
27th February 2020

A contraceptive pill is being researched by the UK Squirrel Accord (UKCA) as a means of controlling the grey squirrel population.

Grey squirrels are considered vermin, damaging the native red squirrel population, as well as broad leaf trees. Researchers are working to stop them reproducing at their current level, aiming to turn an injectable formula into an oral contraceptive, which will be placed in a species-specific food dispenser and delivered to the species.

The Eastern Grey Squirrel originated in North America, but has spread all over the world. It is universally considered a highly invasive species and a serious threat to local populations, especially the red squirrel, which is considered threatened in the UK. The red squirrel population in England is said to be as low as 15,000.  Grey squirrels are also carriers of a disease called Squirrel Parapox Virus, which does not influence their health, but often kills red squirrels.

The threat to the red squirrel is considered so serious, that it was part of a key House of Lords debate on February 13th, which focussed on threats from tree pests and diseases and was directly highlighted by more than half of the speakers. The Earl of Kinnoull, hereditary peer and Chair of the UKSA and Red Squirrel Survival Trust, described the goals of the research to “perfect a suitable active substance and hopper delivery method to allow fertility control to shrink grey squirrel numbers significantly, allowing forestry a chance.”

The actions of UKSA were also commended by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, who also commented on the fact that the UKSA is receiving support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The project, if successful, will also have a financial benefit. Grey squirrels are costing the English forestry in excess of £40 million per year, according to Baroness Byford. The project will last five years, and is progressing well, suggesting that there may be a humane, effective, and less labour-intensive way of controlling the population.

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AUTHOR: Alex Walker
An English Literature student, who enjoys playing devils advocate. Interested in sharing my vacuous opinion on Film, TV, Music, Sports, and Political history. Find me on Facebook if you want write a piece together, or just want to tell me my articles are rubbish somewhere Zuckerberg can hear. Twitter, @TheAlexJLWalker

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