GREY squirrels will cost the sector at least £1.1 billion over the next 40 years, according to a new report by some of England and Wales’s largest forestry organisations.

The report, Analysis of the Costs of Grey Squirrel Damage, was commissioned by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) in partnership with the Forestry Commission, National Resources Wales, the National Forest Company and Woodland Trust.

It developed a repeatable methodology for calculating grey squirrel damage by taking into account not just lost timber value but reduced carbon capture, as well as damage mitigation and the costs of trees to replace those that have died as a result of grey squirrel bark stripping.

The results show a wide range of values depending on assumptions. The ‘probable scenario’ estimates that grey squirrels are costing the sector a total of £37 million a year in England and Wales.

READ MORE: Grey squirrels cause a lot of damage – and amusement

Simon Lloyd, Royal Forestry Society chief executive, said: “Woodland creation is at the top of the forestry policy agenda, but many of those new trees will not survive to deliver the carbon capture or biodiversity objectives if grey squirrels cannot be controlled.

“If woodland owners are deterred from planting species such as oak within woodland mixes we may be looking at a loss of home-grown high-quality hardwood timber, further increasing a dependency on imports.”

The report recommends additions to the National Forestry Inventory squirrel damage survey methods to improve the quality of data available to help land managers calculate the true costs of impacts on woodland; and to help develop appropriate and effective grey squirrel control policies.

The European Squirrel Initiative (ESI) welcomed the Government’s recent public consultation on plans to change the laws in England to allow gene editing research to be used in the breeding of crops and livestock, citing its potential as a solution to the wider problem of invasive alien species, including grey squirrel populations in the UK.

Graham Taylor, ESI chairman, commented: “By using gene editing to harness natural genetic resources, we believe further research can lead to a humane solution to the problem of grey squirrels, as well as other invasive, non-native species, while also being of huge environmental benefit for our country.”

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