Squirrels on the pill?: Scientists design contraceptives to eradicate grey squirrels

Scientists are developing oral contraceptives in a bid to control the overpopulation of grey squirrels. Not as innocent as they look, these rodents cause damage to the forests.

We all love to feed those cute little grey squirrels in the parks. Sometimes cheeky but always photogenic, they can be found almost everywhere in the UK. Who could know that these flufftailsare not as innocent as they look? Climate change baddies and red squirrel extinction culprits, they are about to be put on the pill.

Contraception for squirrels

According to BBC News, the plan to use oral contraceptives to control grey squirrel populationsin the UK is making good progress. It can soon be put to the test in field trials. The scientists hope to deploy it in the wild within two years.

The mass birth control program involves luring grey squirrels into feeding boxes with pots of hazelnut spread. These will be spiked with contraceptives, which makes both male and female grey squirrels infertile.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The government officials say the project ‘has great potential to provide an effective, easily-applied and non-lethal method’ to eradicate grey squirrels.

The initiative is funded by the UK Squirrel Accord (UKSA) partnership and supported by the Prince of Wales. He was also instrumental in setting up UKSA.

Tiny squirrels = huge damage

According to the Royal Forestry Society, grey squirrel damage to trees in England and Wales alone is estimated at whopping £37m a year. The UK is believed to be home to around three million of these invasive rodents.

Grey squirrels harm woodlands by stripping bark from the young trees, targeting ecologically important broadleaf species such as oak, beech, sweet chestnut, and sycamore. They leave scarring that allows an entry point for other tree pests and diseases. It can stunt the growth and kill the trees.

According to Environment Minister Lord Benyon, rodents 'disrupt the delicate balance of nature and biodiversity'. They also 'threaten the effectiveness of government efforts to tackle climate change by planting tens of thousands of hectares of new woodlands'.

Grey squirrels are one of the main reasons for the local extinctions of red squirrels in large areas of the UK.

Scientists believe that if the project works out, similar techniques could be used to control the population of other invasive mammals such as rats, mice, deer, and wild boar.

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