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Squirrels

There are two kinds of squirrels in the UK: the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is native to the UK, but has diminished in numbers following the introduction of the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Originating in North America, the grey squirrel was brought over to the UK by the Victorians and it now populates around 90% of the country. The red squirrel is mainly found in Scotland. Not only do they compete for food and shelter, the grey squirrel transmits the squirrelpox virus to its red cousin. Harmless to the grey squirrel, the virus will kill a red squirrel within 2 weeks.

Although often regarded as being cute, the grey squirrel can cause massive damage to homes and woodlands. They can cause trees to weaken and die, and will feast on bird eggs and fledglings. The UK Forestry Commission estimates between £6-10 million in damage is done to UK forests each year.

Listed as an Invasive Alien Species, it is illegal to release any captured grey squirrel under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; it must be despatched humanely.

A squirrel makes its nest, known as a drey, within a hole in a tree, between branches, or in an accessible attic. They reproduce twice a year, producing 3-7 offspring known as kittens each time. At full length, a grey squirrel can measure up to 30cm and has a distinguishable bushy tail.

Signs of an infestation

Hearing rustling and scrabbling in attics may be a sign of a squirrel infestation. Noticing physical damage in these areas such as chewed woodwork, wires, and insulation, along with droppings and urine. Like rats, the teeth of a squirrel are constantly growing and they keep them in check by gnawing hard surfaces. This could lead to structural damage or an increased risk of fire.

They moult twice a year so you may notice clumps of fur after winter or after summer.

They can raid fruit crops and bird feeders for food, and can scavenge in bins. Squirrels will also strip certain trees of bark around the base which can eventually cause the trees to die.

Spotting live squirrels around your home allows you to check where they’re gaining access to the property.

Prevention

If feeding birds are using bird feeders, clean up any spillages regularly to reduce the food sources that squirrels have access to. Don’t put bird feed directly onto the ground and ensure household waste is stored securely with bin lids kept closed.

Use vegetable netting around crops to stop squirrels’ access, and clear up any windfallen fruit.

If squirrels are gaining access to your attic, proof it by checking for any holes or gaps they may be entering through. Block these up permanently; a temporary solution could easily be removed by determined pests. Cut back any trees or other growth that may enable squirrels to reach the attic. Check for any external cables or wires that may also provide secure footing.

Treatment

To prevent squirrels from hanging on bird feeders, attach the Off My Nuts Squirrel Spinner. The battery-powered device detects when the heavier weight of the squirrel has been added and starts to spin, harmlessly throwing the squirrel off. Designed to only detect squirrels, small birds won’t trigger the reaction and can continue to feed.

The Hot Nuts spray can be applied to bird food – it contains capsicum chilli which will make the seed distasteful to squirrels but the addition will remain undetected by birds. It contains no poisons or chemicals; the natural ingredients cause no harm when consumed.

Fix Prickle Strips or Fence Toppers to fences where squirrels walk. The small, plastic spikes will cause discomfort to their feet, deterring them from the protected area. The polypropylene strips are weather-resistant for season-round use. These are easy to apply using screws or All-Weather Silicone Adhesive (neither supplied).

Should you wish to capture squirrels alive, remember that these must be humanely despatched and not released back into the wild. The Rat & Small Animal Cage Trap is the ideal size for catching squirrels.

From The Big Cheese Ultra Power, the Mega-Sonic Multi-Speaker Ultrasonic All-Pest Repeller has a frequency setting that targets squirrels, cats and dogs. Suitable for use both indoors and outdoors, the unit and satellite speakers can be set up to create a protected zone with a barrier that produces ultrasonic sound to deter squirrels without causing them harm.

Humane despatching

By law animals must be killed using the methods set out in the Schedule 1 to the Animals Act 1986, with the proviso that they are carried out by a competent person and death is subsequently confirmed. These methods include destruction of the brain and dislocation of the neck. These methods cause minimal stress if carried out competently by a handler with whom the animals are familiar; loss of consciousness can be rapid and there should be no pain.

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