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Lord Wyatt of Weeford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the real villain was Henry VIII who destroyed the forests in which the red squirrels fed? They almost disappeared. When foreign squirrels, including the grey squirrel, were imported, they did not attack the red squirrels but played happily in what pieces of forest were available. Now the red squirrel is particularly susceptible to a virus to which the grey squirrel is not. It will be very bad this winter. Thousands more red squirrels will die because of the virus. It is no way the fault of the grey squirrel which does no harm to the trees or the birds in my garden.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am not sure whether recent analysis and research supports the noble Lord's interpretation. I believe that Henry VIII felled oak trees to build ships. The red squirrel finds acorns a little hard to eat. He is a discerning fellow; he prefers well-hung hazelnuts. One of the problems is that grey squirrels are voracious eaters. They eat hazelnuts before they are ripe which prevents the red squirrels eating them. So there is a problem in the winter. There are other problems which must be addressed. Red squirrels prefer pines, Norwegian spruce and larch; grey squirrels prefer broadleaved trees. The drive we have at the moment to increase broadleaved planting in Great Britain will at the same time affect the success with which grey squirrels are able to survive.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of a most interesting debate last night in another place when this subject was gone into in considerable detail. A great deal of information was given. The noble Earl spoke about red squirrels in Scotland and the hope that we can save as many as possible. At the same time there seems to be a contradiction. In paragraph 10.5 of the UK action plan for biodiversity the red squirrel is listed among the
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, there are ample resources to produce the action required to safeguard the future of the red squirrel. The resources do not come just from one nature agency such as SNH, but from the Forestry Commission, woodland owners in the private sector and other sources. The partnership approach has been adopted in relation to the red squirrel. There is an organisation called Red Alert which draws together all the different initiatives. The funding of SNH has been decided upon the ground of the efficiencies which we know are possible in that organisation and upon the new priorities which are expected of that organisation. The species action plan is a priority which we are confident it can meet.
Lord Gisborough: My Lords, in view of the misunderstanding among householders of the depredations caused by these tree rats and the fact that preservation societies are being set up to protect them, will the Government take action to try to publicise to everyone, particularly urban dwellers, just how much depredation these rats cause?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. The campaign being run by Red Alert is designed partially to educate and raise public awareness of the merits and otherwise of the grey squirrel. In addition, it is important that all woodland owners are aware of the need to control grey squirrels. They can do extensive damage to broadleaved trees. If they are not controlled the damage they can do to our countryside, landscapes and various habitats will also be extensive.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that he said that an inquiry is going on to see what effect grey squirrels are having on the survival of red squirrels? Does that mean that there is no proof that grey squirrels are driving out red squirrels? Secondly, with the poisoning of grey squirrels is account being taken of the damage that may be caused to other animals and birds which feed off the carcasses of those grey squirrels? Finally, is it the intention--
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Yes, you are going to have it whether you like it or not. You should know that by now. Finally, is it now the policy of Her Majesty's Government completely to exterminate the grey squirrel in every part of the UK?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, there is strong circumstantial evidence that within 15 years of grey squirrels moving into a wood the red squirrels have moved out. We believe that that is due partially to the disease that grey squirrels carry from which red squirrels die. We believe that grey squirrels out-compete red squirrels for available food and so in the winter the grey squirrels are well fed while the red squirrels are badly
Lord Mowbray and Stourton: My Lords, have my noble friend and the Government ever considered going back to the old wartime offers of so much money per grey squirrel tail to encourage farmers and other people on the land to help reduce the numbers?
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, we have so many different initiatives in place around the country designed to deal with grey squirrel that the bounty on the grey squirrel's tail is not one we are considering at the moment.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, it is obvious that the Government's policy with regard to biodiversity is to strike a balance. We want to secure the future of the red squirrel whose numbers and range have fallen against the fast-rising numbers of the grey squirrel. There are now 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK. We believe that that is too many.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, two research contracts have recently been awarded. The first is for studies on an immunological approach to sheep scab control, and represents a major collaborative effort by seven laboratories. These are the Central Veterinary Laboratory of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the Universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Leeds; the Moredun Research Institute in Edinburgh, the Babraham Institute in Cambridge; and the School of Biological Sciences in Bangor.
The second, complementary study, aims to understand the critical factors that affect the spread and development of sheep scab and includes looking for natural predators of the sheep scab mite. The study is being undertaken by the University of Liverpool in collaboration with the University of Bristol, the Central Veterinary Laboratory and the School of Biological Sciences, Bangor.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House recognises the contribution that the noble Countess has made towards our resolution to pursue the problem of sheep scab and the alternative methods of controlling it. As regards this project, it is at an early stage and at the frontiers of known science. If everything went perfectly, which we would not expect, we would have a useful vaccine in seven years time. We should be pleased if we had a vaccine in 10 years' time but it may well be longer.
Lord Gallacher: My Lords, in view of the defects as regards the resistance of sheep scab mites to one of the main chemical alternatives to OP dips, will the Government accelerate the work on at least one of the two research projects so that it will be completed in less than three years? During that time we may see the possibility of alleviating the very unsatisfactory dilemma that is presented to sheep farmers who wish to dip their sheep.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, no, I do not believe that there is anything we can do to speed up the research projects. They take the time that they take because that is the required time. The end product will not be a useful vaccine but an indication of how a useful vaccine might be developed. We are still a long way away from having an alternative to chemical control.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, mentioned the resistance of mites to the pyrethroid group of dips. Many farmers are returning to the use of OPs. While I realise that sheep scab must be controlled, may I ask the Minister to ensure that the medical profession is well aware of the symptoms of OP poisoning in humans? There are still problems and every day I receive tragic letters from people who are receiving no co-operation from their GPs or consultants.
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