A Pest Friendly Rescue

Here at Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary, we admit ALL wildlife species … yep! That even includes ‘pests’ such as grey squirrels, feral pigeons, gulls, crows and *shock horror* rats and mice! We believe all wildlife deserve to live and our aim is to release them back to where they belong… the wild. We do not refuse patients simply for being what they are. All wildlife have a place in the ecosystem and that does include ‘pest’ species.

Grey Squirrels

At WWS, we have licenses to keep and release grey squirrels but that is currently at risk. In October 2019, the government changed licencing regulations for rescue centres and their work with grey squirrel rehabilitation. Whilst we are still licenced to rescue and care for grey squirrel we are allowed to rescue only limited number and release would be illegal. This is dreadful news. The government, like so many individuals, believes that the grey squirrel is the cause for the red squirrel’s decline. Despite decades of studies done by numerous experts in the field saying otherwise, so many people are still blinded to the truth… that WE, humans are the cause of the red’s decline, not the grey squirrel. Grey squirrels in rescue centres account for just 0.1% of the population. Please sign the petition, requesting that the rescue of grey squirrel is still legal:

The Red / Grey Timeline:

  • 18th Century: Reds in serious decline due to hunting and deforestation. Reintroduction of red squirrels from the Continent, mostly from Sweden and Central Europe.
  • 1844: Lady Lovat was instrumental in getting red squirrels re-introduced to the Highlands.
  • 1870s: Greys Introduced.
  • End of 18th Century and beginning of 19th Century: Red squirrels suddenly increase due to vast forests being replanted, resulting in tree damage. It is around now that red squirrels were considered ‘pests’ and were subjected to ‘population control’. By the early 1900s, the success of the reds increase in population was becoming a cause for concern among foresters. Clubs were set up in Scotland for the pure and simple reason of killing or trapping red squirrels.
  • 1940s: 50% of woodland that was present in the UK in the 1940s has been cut down, leaving ever decreasing places for the red squirrels to survive.
  • 1970: Red squirrels no longer hunted and persecuted. The Highland Squirrel Club alone killed 80,000 red squirrels during the first 30 years it operated.
  • 1989-1998: Studies conducted to learn about the types of trees that are preferred by reds and greys. Unsurprisingly, given the decline in numbers of red squirrels, it has been shown that there has been a large shift away from trees which suit red squirrels to trees which grey squirrels thrive in. Forest replanting programmes are planting trees that grey squirrels prefer, reducing grey squirrel habitat even further.
  • 1998: Forestry Commission’s research data on grey and red squirrel numbers across the UK shows that in Scotland, they have some of the best pine forests, and unsurprisingly, the red squirrel is most commonly found here. England has more decidious woodland, which is best suited to grey squirrels, and it is no surprise then to see that it is mainly grey squirrels that are found across England.
  • 2004: A DNA study of our current red squirrel population shows that the vast majority of our red squirrels actually originated from Scandinavia
  • 2008: The biggest pox outbreak in history, killing 80% of the red squirrel population. That outbreak could in no way be linked to the presence of grey squirrels because they were present in only 4 out of 14 districts affected by the outbreak.
  • 2008: The Zoological Society of London has identified eight cases in which free-living red squirrels have survived pox.
  • Present day: For the last 20 years, a study has been conducted to look into the statistical causes of “unnatural deaths in the red squirrel population in the UK. The study concluded that 53% of reds killed are involved in a car collision and 14% are killed by cats and dogs. Even though the red squirrel has officially beenĀ  a “protected species” for 40 years in the UK there are vast areas of forests felled in areas where red squirrels are common, even in breeding seasons. Every year this causes the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of young red squirrels completely dependent on their mothers.

With thanks to the ICSR-S for its extensive research and studies. Please visit: for more information.