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Invasion of the grey squirrels goes on – now they've take over northern Italy

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 12, 2012

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Last month Morning News Country reported on the threat to red squirrels in Britain and suggested the only way they could saved from extinction was through a methodical eradication of their grey cousins which carry a disease that kills them.

It seems Britain is not the only country affected.

Red squirrels are now "on the verge of extinction" in Piedmont, Northern Italy, according to researchers at the Universities of Turin, Genoa and Varese.

The information also suggests that the disappearance of the red squirrel, the only native tree squirrel species in Italy, is caused by the grey squirrel, the species native to North America which was introduced into Italy 60 years ago.

"The two species compete for food resource and the presence of the American grey squirrel is causing the local extinction of our European red squirrel which has disappeared from an area of over 1,000 square kilometres," said Dr Sandro Bertolino from the Department of Entomology and Zoology at the University of Turin.

"Red squirrels are now virtually extinct in a large area between the cities of Turin and Cuneo in Piedmont and they are under threat in most of north-western Italy," he added.

Studies by the Italian researchers have demonstrated that grey squirrels are expanding their range with a consequent negative effect on red squirrels as has been the case in Great Britain and Ireland.

Introduced in 1948 to Stupinigi, near Turin, the area occupied by grey squirrels has been expanding rapidly. In 1990 their distribution covered an area of approximately 200 sq km, in 2000 this area had risen to 900 sq km however recent research by the University shows that in 2012 their distribution extends to an area of more than 2,000 sq km and in most of this area red squirrels are no longer present. In an area of 1,150 sq km only grey squirrels are present.

"This is devastating news for the European red squirrel," said George Farr, chairman of the European Squirrel Initiative.

"This sad news from Italy demonstrates the relentless spread of grey squirrels and is a wake-up call to all those involved to ensure that greys are controlled and removed from Northern Italy to prevent further damage not only to red squirrels but also to the biodiversity of Europe as the grey squirrel continues its relentless territorial expansion," he added.

The news from Italy comes as a new data catalogue of alien species published by the European Commission. DAISIE (Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventory for Europe) database gives policy makers and the public access to a comprehensive overview of which alien species are present in Europe, as well as how these non-native species are affecting both the environment and society.

The American grey squirrel is categorised within the top 100 "worst" species.

The European Squirrel Initiative was founded June 2002 by a group of concerned conservationists and foresters. The organisation seeks the restoration of the native red squirrel and the protection of the natural environment by removing the impact of the alien grey squirrel in Europe.

Its role is to persuade conservation bodies and governments of the absolute necessity of ridding Europe of the grey squirrel and to commission research into the impact of the Grey Squirrel on local ecosystems.

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  • Scoiattolo  |  October 12 2012, 8:42PM

    Actually the virus has never been recorded in Italy, and it is now more than 60 years that gray squirrels live here. In the meantime they have indeed occupied some 1,000+ square kilometers, which means that they should take some 18,000 years to complete their "invasion" of Italy, and it seems a bit fanciful worrying about who will inhabit Italy in the year 20,000 or so, and even more because the population of red squirrels is declining everywhere (i.e. where there are no gray squirrels as well) because of the loss of habitat, that is because of the invasiveness of the human species. A website (http://tinyurl.com/8aw84e9) has been recently published, although unfortunately in Italian language only, in order to underline why the idea of culling gray squirrels should be rejected both for ethical and for practical considerations.

  • bullocks400  |  October 12 2012, 7:29PM

    Glad there is a little more talk about the problem. However, it's action that's needed. The grey squirrel continues to cause huge damage to our environment and will do for years if we wait for Natural England/Defra to get organised. They are scared of the 'bunny(squirrel) huggers' and will therefore just fudge the issue. What good value they are! Come on you lot, grow a pair and put a bounty on grey squirrels.