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Prince Charles backs plan to Sterilise grey squirrels to protect our Red Squirrels


THE PRINCE of Wales has backed new plans to sterilise grey squirrels in a bid to protect native reds. The government-backed plans would see grey squirrels given an oral contraceptive hidden in chocolate spread, which would last several years.


Scientists believe over five years the plans would reduce numbers by more than 90 per cent, from 3.5m to less than 300,000.


Prince Charles likes the idea because it means no grey squirrels would have to be killed but numbers would be successfully reduced by the prevention millions of births.


The contraceptive idea has not been publicised until now and is being developed by the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in York, with an initial cash injection of £39,000 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Prince Charles is a patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust and a vocal advocate on its work to protect the rodent whose future is increasingly uncertain.


A spokesman for Prince Charles said: "The red squirrel is a most cherished and iconic national species, and, as Patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, The Prince of Wales keenly supports all efforts to conserve and promote their diminishing numbers."


"Where appropriate, this includes the humane and lawful control of grey squirrels as well as other measures to enhance the natural habitat of reds across the Duchy of Cornwall estate, in accordance with established estate management practices."


APHA believes the contraceptive could also be used to reduce numbers of wild boar and badgers if it proves successful.


Prince Charles discussed the plans on Monday at a meeting at Clarence House with members of the UK Squirrel Accord – an initiative he developed three years ago in a bid to control the grey squirrels.


Many groups including the Forestry Commission, National Trust and Woodland Trust seek to protect red squirrels and broadleaf trees, which are also affecting by greys, by reducing the numbers.


There are less than 140,000 native red squirrels left in Britain and their main threat is from competition with grey squirrels as well as the spread of the deadly squirrelpox virus.


Grey squirrels were imported from the US by Victorian landowners and wildlife bodies want to help the beloved red critters by controlling the numbers of greys.


A five-year programme has a budget of £1 million in order to test and license the contraceptive but around £100,000 has already been raised this week from supporters of Squirrel Accord.


The active ingredient called GonaCon, a vaccine in the US that suppresses reproductive hormones and the APHA has managed to convert the vaccine into an oral contraceptive.

This is done by implanting it in tiny grains of pollen, which stay in animal’s gut and make sure the GonaCon gets into the bloodstream.


The oral contraceptive has worked on rats and APHA plans to test it on captive squirrels first before carrying out trials in wooded areas using baited boxes with hinged flaps.

Top Photo: Allan Bantick OBE presenting HRH Prince Charles with a giant hand-made toy red squirrel for Prince George on his first birthday. Photo by www.cairngormwildlife.co.uk

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