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Lord Lyell: My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow my noble friend Lord Inglewood. I hasten to inform him that I shall not be on the 1440 train to Carlisle. I see that my noble friend Lord Jopling is attending, perhaps to listen to the excellent and wise culinary recipes that my noble friend gave. I was certainly not aware that the grey squirrel—known appropriately, I understand, as Sciurus carolinensis, so evidently named after me—came straight in from the States, and I do not know how nutritious they are.

I want to thank my noble friend Lord Peel for putting a mild electric shock through me by insisting that there was helpful material and, indeed, that the authorities in Scotland were taking a pretty active line on the preservation of red squirrels. I declare a mild interest in that, at our estate office, we have a clan of three red squirrels while on the other side of the road—as near as I am now to the Minister—there is a clan of about seven. We have had to separate the feeding, because we have lost three over the autumn and winter. It is quite a busy road for rural Angus, but I have been able to observe, during the past three to five years, that these creatures are easily taken care of and become
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rather tame. Yet in all of my life at Kinnordy in rural Angus, until 20 January of this year I had not seen one grey squirrel in our area.

My noble friend Lord Peel encouraged me to see what is being done north of the Border and my noble friend Lord Monro was absolutely right; he tells me that he gets his television from south of the Border, but nature, including squirrels, is certainly no respecter of geographical or other boundaries.

On 27 February this year various bodies in Scotland, led by their deputy environment Minister, held a massive meeting attended by over 130 delegates. Figures produced show that about 75 per cent of the United Kingdom's red squirrel population is resident in Scotland. I was pleased to see that the Minister and others from Scottish Natural Heritage, or SNH, were keen on promoting their preservation. Indeed, Mr Colin Galbraith, director of scientific and advisory services, said:

I am not aware whether mine are among that happy number, but before I came south for this debate I discovered, in our own estate office, a valuable little leaflet on the Scottish Squirrel Survey. It has some interesting information in it; the figures that might interest your Lordships are on weight. The survey, which has a little tear-off slip so that if you observe red or grey squirrels, you can add to the knowledge—and I hope for further action in taking care of the red squirrels—says that the average weight of a red squirrel is 275 to 305 grams, whereas the average for the grey squirrel is 540 to 660 grammes. That brings to mind a Saturday afternoon spent in front of the television set watching Six Nations rugby, where brawn tends to win—quite apart from the food. However, I am delighted that the Scottish Executive has that valuable leaflet.

We have heard some fascinating comments and speeches today. My noble friend Lord Peel, who opened the debate, gave us a quiet introduction to squirrel pox. My noble friend Lord Monro told us exactly what grey squirrels get up to—whether doing various acts on his windscreen or not. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, told us that red squirrels are pretty tame and come into her house at their height. I hope that the Government will be able to take on board much of the information that we have been given.

We are perhaps fortunate to have two lady Members of your Lordships' House on the speakers' list; one has spoken and my noble friend Lady Byford is about to do so. Normally, when we discuss fascinating diseases of either animal or human health, we are always regaled by "I shall not spare your Lordships' blushes". However, I shall temporarily spare your Lordships' blushes with a description of pustular dermatitis in red squirrels; we need not go into that unhappy thought today. I was a bit scared when one speaker—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Chorley—mentioned contraceptive feed for grey squirrels. I hope I have that right; that really would be fascinating. Yet if people are feeding them, I would
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certainly worry what any contraceptive spray or material added to the feed would do to humans. That might be pretty interesting.

Another interesting fact has come from that conference, which took place three weeks ago in Scotland. Your Lordships will see that the subject of my noble friend's debate is the preservation of red squirrels in Britain and Europe. We have heard that there are grey squirrels in mainland Europe, in Italy. I have advice that they were introduced there in 1948 and are spreading, perhaps to France and Switzerland. I shall be on the borders of France and Switzerland in a fortnight's time. I know that that particular area is thick with red squirrels, which are very tame and need to be fed; I shall certainly be able to make inquiries there.

I stress once again my enormous gratitude to my noble friend Lord Peel for introducing this debate. He encouraged me to see what was being done north of the Border and I am very encouraged for those of us who have woodlands—mixed, or of all types—together with their strong populations of red squirrels, which I see at the moment. In all my life in the Angus area, which is 66 years, I have seen only one grey squirrel and hope that we shall be able to chase the others out. Those of us who might be able to take part in controlling the grey squirrels will be grateful for the advice. I hope that the Minister, when he replies, can let us know whether he is in touch with the Minister in Scotland, or whether he will be able to have joint communication.

12.47 pm

The Earl of Liverpool: My Lords, the number 10 has a certain ring to it just at the moment, so it gives me the greatest pleasure to be the 10th speaker and to support my noble friend in his search for a real and lasting solution to the devastating decline of our red squirrel population in this country. His fount of knowledge on our countryside and conservation matters is well known to your Lordships and I very much doubt whether I can add anything to his excellent opening contribution, but I shall try.

It is clear from my noble friend's speech, and those of other noble Lords, that I am not alone in remembering some of the wonderful Beatrix Potter books which coloured my childhood back in the late 1940s. I have recently read her biography; she was born in South Kensington, but it was not long before she found herself spending many happy holidays with her parents in the Lake District. She became a great lover of everything that the countryside had to offer, and when she died in 1943 she owned 14 farms spread over 4,000 acres of Lake District land, all of which—as I understand it—she left to the National Trust. That was her final gift to the nation; her own beloved countryside, given as a legacy for all to enjoy. If she had been alive today, I believe that she would have fought hard to keep the grey squirrel at bay from that land.

In 1903 she wrote her third book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, as referred to a number of times in this debate. She was probably hardly aware of the arrival
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on the scene of Sciuris carolinensis, the grey squirrel, and the danger that it posed to our native Sciuris vulgaris. How sad it is that fate decreed that our much prettier and more endearing red squirrel should be named "vulgaris". Perhaps therein lies part of the problem.

I venture to ask your Lordships to extend your imaginations just for a moment, something which I know comes easily to most of us. If, in Beatrix Potter's 1903 book, Twinkleberry had been a nasty, pox-carrying grey cousin instead of a near and dear brother of Nutkin, we might have been alerted to the scourge of the greys and done more to mobilise our resources, keeping the numbers down before they mushroomed and contributed to wreaking so much damage on our native population.

Sadly, one cannot rewrite history or, indeed, children's books. We must now grasp the extreme seriousness of the situation, and try to remedy it. Thankfully, there are many friends of the red squirrel, such as the Sefton Coast Partnership, which, sadly, also has a declining population of reds on that area of north-west coastline near Liverpool. As in most other areas, the greys are encroaching on their habitat and, because they are largely resistant to the dreaded parapox virus—as we have heard—they are infecting and killing our indigenous species. In carrying out research on the internet, I came across a photograph of a red squirrel suffering from the parapox virus, which I found truly horrifying. Death occurs within a few days of infection, but the lesions it creates on the eyes, organs and other sensitive areas of the body must cause agonising pain. Liverpool University is doing excellent work, helping a group called Red Alert North West by carrying out post-mortems on any dead red squirrels they come across and storing blood samples from grey squirrels, so that they can conduct research into the transfer of the disease and why its effects are so much more serious in the red population.

The greatest challenge that confronts us, even with the knowledge thus accumulated, and assuming a vaccine could be found, is that of effectively administering it to a species which is quite shy and lives in the wild. I agree with my noble friend Lord Peel, and all my noble friends who have spoken today, that the only practical way to help our dwindling red squirrel population is to dramatically reduce grey squirrel numbers. Quite apart from the threat they pose to our native species, they cause great damage to trees, kill young birds and take eggs from nests.

However, culling greys is not as easy as it sounds. As we have already been told by other noble Lords, their breeding pattern is something on a par with rabbits and rats—indeed, they are known as tree rats by many, including myself. I shoot them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

The stark reality is that, unless grey squirrel numbers can be dramatically reduced, the reds are ultimately doomed. We have reached a tipping point, and I hope that this short debate will help give Her Majesty's Government the will to embark on a serious effort to remedy the plight of our native squirrel before it is too late.
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12.52 pm

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