Jottings 1 January 2022 – said I would be back….

My dear and indefatigable friend, Rowell, has just sent me a press cutting which appeared in The Times – top people take The Times, or so I am told! – dated 21 December 1921 one hundred years ago. It is an article about my beloved grey squirrel. Where’s my gun? And I quote:

“The introduction of North American grey squirrels into this country has had an unexpected success which, to judge from many letters sent to us, has not gained universal approval. English visitors to Central Park, New York, have often been delighted by the bold and confiding habits of these little rodents, which seemed never to have acquired the red squirrel’s distrust of man. There have been several attempts to acclimatise them here, with only recent success. A dozen years ago, the Zoological Society of London obtained a number from a private collection in Bedfordshire to induce them to breed free in the gardens of Regent’s Park. They were first kept in a large enclosure, from which they had become used to visitors. They were allowed to pass in and out by a rope bridge to a tree. It was hoped that they would spread from the gardens to the Park. After two or three years, in which they seemed to be disappearing, they suddenly became ubiquitous. The grey squirrels are plainly happy and plainly give happiness to Londoners – two weighty reasons for their presence in the parks. It is alleged against them that they destroy the nests of warblers, as a few nests have been destroyed, but the squirrels frequent the regions of the parks where dispensers of nuts most abound whereas the shy birds covet the more secluded thickets. Careful observers of birds believe that the avian population is improving in numbers and variety, and that it might improve still more were suitable sanctuaries to be enclosed.

On the other hand, grey squirrels, whether by taking advantage of tubes or buses or by deliberate human connivance, have spread from London and are invading the country over expansive areas. They are said to drive out the red squirrel, to raid gardens and to add to the anxieties of the pheasant breeder. We hope that a fuller enquiry will not sustain these charges. We doubt if a creature with such a preference for living as a sturdy beggar will settle down to the hardships of predatory and hunted life. The biological problems following the introduction of an animal to a new country are interesting, and we admit that there has often been no middle way between complete failure and disastrous success.”

This set me thinking that this is the trouble. It seemed a good idea at the time but, in retrospect, misguided. Today, in my opinion, the grey squirrel is a menace as is the muntjac deer. Why do we do nothing about it? Instead, we keep on reintroducing various birds and animals at the whim of the few. Is it a good idea to reintroduce sea eagles? – there are more waiting to be caged on the Isle of Wight prior to release. Was it a good idea to free red kites in southern England? There are now so many that calling them in for dinner is now essential. I suppose it might not be long before beavers are munching away at trees on the Deben or another colony of ospreys introduced on the Blythe will be competing with the local fishermen. Of course, controversial permission was granted to cull many badgers because it was thought that they passed a deadly illness to cattle but we do little to control the menace of deer. These pretty ‘bambies’ are hugely increasing in numbers. Just travel along our motorways and you will see the carcase of a deer every few miles or so.

Should we not be giving our own wildlife more support? With the huge amount of land disappearing under bricks and mortar at present so habitat is disappearing at an alarming rate. We know that our songbirds are in dire trouble. There is much chatter from our conservationists but I feel much more could be done. Surely we need a cull of things like crows, magpies, jays, muntjac and, would you believe, grey squirrels. So after greys were released misguidedly one hundred years ago, let’s now do something about it. The solution will not be simple.

A little bit of cheer. I was sitting in my car in Lidl’s car park in Felixstowe when a merlin dashed through it only a foot or two above the ground. Around the corner, it swerved and up flew a flock of goldfinches. The merlin was not successful and disappeared into the Stygian gloom. The ‘goldies’ settled down again. Not everything comes cheap at Lidl’s!

And what a glorious first day of 2022! Sat in the garden at 4 pm with a cup of tea and thoughts of lovely days to come before too long passed through my mind. So, after a moan, or is it a plea, I wish everyone who reads these scribbles a very Happy New Year.

Reg Snook