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January 23, 2006
Britain culls grey squirrels

A controversial plan is about to come into place in Britain to save the endangered native red squirrel, and it'll come at the expense of the country's cutest pest, the grey squirrel, which delights tourists but is detested by many locals.

A mass cull program begins today targeting the grey squirrel - a move that's attracting controversy.

Kerri Ritchie reports from London.

KERRI RITCHIE: There are more than two million grey squirrels in Britain. If you've taken a walk through Hyde Park in London, you'd be forgiven for thinking most of them live there.

But the alien invader, which was introduced into Britain from North America in the 19th century, is widespread throughout England, Wales and parts of Scotland.

Grey squirrels outnumber Britain's native red squirrel by 66 to one. The greys are largely to blame for the decline of the reds. The greys are hungrier, bigger and better designed than the indigenous model. They also carry the Squirrelpox virus, which is lethal to the Reds.

But in a move sure to provoke public outcry, the British Government has just announced grey squirrels are to be trapped, and then shot or poisoned, to create buffer zones around areas where red squirrels are living.

Rod Leslie works for Britain's Forestry Commission.

ROD LESLIE: Well, this is a squirrel trap hidden in the undergrowth. The way it works is that you put a bit of bait, some wheat or maize, on the ground at this end, the squirrel comes in to feed, it crosses this treadle, and down comes the door…

Source : ABC News