Killing grey squirrels could break anti-cruelty laws, public warned


MEMBERS of the public who trap and cull grey squirrels could be breaking anti-cruelty laws, it has emerged.

Trap loan schemes are used throughout Scotland as a means of stemming the spread of the squirrel pox virus, which is harmless to grey’s but lethal to red squirrels.

Mike Flynn, chief superintendant at the Scottish SPCA, has warned that ordinary members of the public should steer clear of trap loans schemes which encourage untrained people to catch and dispose of squirrels.

He said using the free home-trapping kits, which are issued by a Scottish charity, could cause “unnecessary suffering” to animals, which is an offence under Scottish law.

Trap door schemes are used throughout Scotland as a means of stemming the spread of the squirrel pox virus, which is harmless to grey’s but lethal to their red counterparts.

The process involved trapping a grey squirrel and then disposing of them by using an air pistol or giving them a sharp blow to the head in a process called ‘cranial dispatch.’

Both landowners and householders are eligible for a trapping pack as part of a scheme run by the charity-funded project Saving Scottish Red Squirrels (SSRS).

But SSPCA’s Mr Flynn, has warned it is an offense to cause animals any unnecessary suffering under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.

Those caught under the act could face fines of up to £20,000 or 12 months imprisonment.

He said: “Once an animal is caught in a trap it is under control of man and therefore offered the full protection of the law,” he said.

“A trained person may be able to dispatch a squirrel in a humane manner, but we do not expect members of the public to be able to do this without causing at least some degree of suffering particularly if using the cranial dispatch method.

“However, it is also an offense to release a grey squirrel back into the wild once caught, therefore we would strongly discourage anyone from trapping such an animal in the first place.”

Since being introduced toScotland, more than two centuries ago, grey squirrels have dominated over red species, taking over much of their traditional habitats and carrying a lethal pox virus which is harmless to them but fatal to red squirrels.

Grey squirrel numbers inScotlandare controlled through a mix of professional squirrel control and by members of the public.

Red Squirrels in South Scotland (RSSS) project co-ordinator, Karen Ramoo said they rely on members of the public getting involved with trap loan schemes in order to keep numbers of grey squirrels down.

She said: “We rely very much on members of the public and local landowners.

“The project follows strict animal welfare guidelines and all those who take part in the trap loan scheme must abide by these – they are asked to sign a declaration form. Each participant is visited either by myself or a project control officer and we give full instructions and training on the setting and monitoring of traps, along with the dispatching and blood sampling of grey squirrels.

“Those involved in the project must use the recognised legal methods of dispatch which are shooting with an air pistol or cranial dispatch. Anyone who refused to abide by the above is not allowed to participate under the project.”

The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) project run free trap-loan schemes for ordinary members of the public to help keep down numbers of grey squirrels in Scotland.

The project involves a trapping pack which contain information on risk assessment, control methods, legalities and a trapping diary.

On its website, The SSRS say: “Support with animal dispatch will be available from project officers or designated community controllers.  Training will be available and provided to anyone carrying out animal dispatch on behalf of this project.”



  1. What an absolute load of rubbish! No mention of the awful and painful deaths suffered by the reds when they catch the pox off the greys.
    They die an excruciating death, very painfully and very slowly.

    • There’s no evidence of that. It’s speculation presented as fact. Early in the last century, out of forty-four districts in England where red squirrels had the disease only four districts had grey squirrels present. This suggests that SQPV has been within the red squirrel population for around a century at least and that grey squirrels are victims of a campaign of unfair vilification. Some people even have the audacity to claim that SQPV somehow arrived around the time it was discovered in 1983 but that is about as ridiculous as claiming America didn’t exist before it was “discovered” by Leif Ericson – centuries before Christopher Columbus was born.

      • There is plenty of evidence.

        Grey squirrels are frequently found with the antibodies to squirrel pox, over here and in America.
        On Anglesey, where grey squirrels have been eradicated from the island, the remaining greys rarely had the antibodies and therefore had not been in contact with the virus recently. Greys were removed, a smaller percentage of greys caught the virus. Greys clearly act as a reservoir host.

        “out of forty-four districts in England where red squirrels had the disease only four districts had grey squirrels present”
        You say that, yet you provide no mention of which districts these were, or how close the “grey free” districts actually were to grey squirrel populations. The disease can be spread by reds as well as greys. If one red catches the disease from a grey, that red can pass it on to other reds and the disease can spread away from the grey squirrel population where it originated.

        Furthermore, grey squirrels were kept as pets by some people at that time. Even pet animals can spread diseases.

    • Not to mention the grey squirrels driving out the red squirrels, raiding songbird nests, etc. Red squirrels are endangered in the UK thanks to the grey squirrel.

  2. The indiscriminate killing of grey squirrels by Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS), backed by Scottish Natural Heritage, includes lactating females which means their kittens are left to die of starvation. The dishonest get out they have is that the kittens are not technically under the control of the trappers therefore not protected by law. However, the killing of the kittens is a consequence of the trappers’ actions. Only those blind enough not to want to see that dismiss it.

    I made a formal complaint to Mr Flynn of the SSPCA over a year ago and as a result he was offered a meeting with the policy director of SNH to discuss the matter. He never bothered to take up the offer. I think he’s scared of taking on a government agency or perhaps it’s something to do with the society getting paid by local government to uplift stray dogs. So much for protecting animals against cruelty!

    • I trap grey squirrels, and I shoot out dreys to kill young instantly. That is humane. The young rarely die in pain. I do what I can to avoid unnecessary suffering.

      Grey squirrels are responsible for the red squirrel decline, and woodland bird declines. This has been proven Angus. There was a grey squirrel cull in Northumberland, and red squirrels returned within 9 weeks, and songbird numbers increased rapidly. Our wood has no squirrels and hundreds of songbirds. What does that tell you?

      I do my bit. I trap and kill grey squirrels. Always have and always will.

  3. If we don’t do the culling of grey squirrels, who is going to do it. The answer is nobody. So what should we do just let the red squirrels become extinct!

  4. It does not break anti cruelty laws at all. And if you don’t trust yourself to do it properly, you can always get someone else to do it for you.

    Grey squirrels need to be culled. Period. If they are not culled, the native red squirrel will disappear. Cull grey squirrels nationwide, I say.

  5. Has anyone heard of grey squirrels biting off oak twigs in the spring? This has been happening to our tree, leaving large numbers of new leafy twigs on the ground below. If I want to cull squirrels in my suburban garden, how do I do it? I’m worried about the process of killing them. Is there a good trap on the market which kills squirrels instantly and as humanely as possible?

  6. After reading this article I believe the answer lies with a killing tool, either by electrocution, decapitation or lethal injection, if it’s good enough for humans it’s good enough for vermin or you just poison them like rats, you don’t hear complaints when they are exterminated.

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