In July my wife and I enjoyed a holiday trip to Finland where she spotted a red squirrel and I missed it!

I can’t remember when I last saw a red squirrel in England. We are all familiar with the grey squirrels which often appear in our gardens to raid bird feeders.

But how many of us have seen our native red squirrel here?

They are now mainly restricted to islands such as the Isle of Wight, Brownsea Island and Anglesey plus a small mainland population near Merseyside.

Red squirrels, immortalised by children’s author Beatrix Potter, have been decimated by greys imported from America in the 1800s by wealthy landowners seeking exotic wildlife for large parks and gardens surrounding their mansions.

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They soon escaped and spread fast. The greys, more robust than reds and twice as big at one and a half pounds, also carry squirrelpox which is harmless to them but can be fatal to reds.

Where they occur together, the more aggressive greys always drive out reds which is why our native “tufties” now mainly inhabit islands beyond reach of the animals labelled by many as “north American tree rats.”

Their sharp teeth damage woodlands, gardens and houses and they plunder eggs and young from birds nests.

The grey population is estimated to have doubled in 10 years to around six million while red numbers have fallen from 3.5million to around 120,000 in Britain and just 15,000 in England.

While culls against coypu , ruddy duck and badger have been pursued with vigour, efforts to wipe out grey squirrels by government bodies were half-hearted and disjointed.

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A co-ordinated plan to eliminate greys is urgently required to save the reds.

It’s a shame more people don’t realise grey squirrel white meat is great to eat in stews, smoked or as pate.

There is some good news for reds. Breeding programmes have been established in Norfolk and Surrey with reintroductions on Mersea Island, Essex, and the Scilly Isles.

The Isle of Man blocked reintroduction plans there.

Unless we eliminate greys soon how long will it be before they invade our islands and wipe out the reds completely?