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Sensitivity over killing grey squirrels is ‘stupidity’, says Tory ex-minister

Public sensitivity over killing grey squirrels has been branded “stupidity” by a Tory former minister.

Lord Robathan pointed to people’s adverse reaction if a dog caught one in a park and highlighted opposition to the trapping of the invasive rodent.

He revealed he had captured 14 on his own farm since Christmas Day but there were “still hundreds left”.

He argued numbers had to be reduced to realise the Government’s tree-planting ambitions because of the damage caused by the bark-stripping pests, which have been blamed for the decline of the native red squirrel.

Lord Robathan also challenged the need for a licence to shoot members of the corvid bird family, such as magpies and crows.

He was speaking during a debate in the House of Lords on financial support for farmers and species management.

The Conservative peer, who served in the SAS, said: “We used to have when I bought my farm 20 odd years ago, we would have curlews there every year, which is magnificent, a lowland farm in the Midlands.

“However, we now almost never see curlews and the reason probably is not foxes because we don’t see that many foxes, but it’s really corvids.

Magpie (Alamy/PA)
Lord Robathan also challenged the need for a licence to shoot members of the corvid bird family, such as magpies and crows (Alamy/PA)

“Now peers may not know that you need a licence to show that you can shoot corvids or control corvids.”

Lord Robathan added: “Magpies, which are very clever birds and easily tamed by the way, if you watch them in the next couple of months you will see them working their way down a hedge, sticking their heads in looking for nesting birds. And when they find a nesting bird they destroy them.

“Each magpie might be responsible for the destruction of 10 nests, I don’t know, I haven’t studied it closely enough.

“But under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 you need a licence. You need to be able to prove that magpies or crows are causing damage.

“What is the point of that?”

Turning to grey squirrels, he said: “I have planted a lot of trees. I should think in one wood a third of the trees have been killed by grey squirrels, so I trap them.

“This is legal I am glad to say because otherwise I probably wouldn’t tell you.

“I have caught 14 since Christmas day in some traps. I am catching them the whole time. There are still hundreds left, but they do so much damage.

“You do have people challenging the trapping.”

He warned against any suggestion of making it illegal to cull grey squirrels in light of the goal to plant more trees.

Lord Robathan went on: “I should also say about killing squirrels. Public sensitivity is one issue. I’d say some stupidity amongst the public.

“If you don’t believe me take your dog for a walk in the park and see what happens if it kills a squirrel in front of a lot other people.

“There’s concern and confusion over general licences… and what one can and cannot do.

“Less, in this case, regulation, is more. We don’t need endless regulations and laws to do what is right and humane.

“Some people will behave badly with or without laws and regulations.

“I suggest we can do with less regulation on the control, of destructive species as well as tree planting and agriculture as a whole.”

Labour frontbencher Baroness Hayman of Ullock said: “There’s a real threat of the grey squirrel population in the areas where we are still fortunate to have red squirrels.”

Environment minister Lord Douglas-Miller said: “Through countryside stewardship we already pay for actions to manage deer and grey squirrels to protect our woodlands.”