GREY squirrels are still rated the number-one threat to broadleaf woodlands, according to the results of a survey of nearly 800 woodland owners, land managers and others.

Survey results reveal little is being done to manage grey squirrels at a landscape scale, and many respondents felt they had insufficient training and/or knowledge to implement existing control methods effectively.

The survey, by woodland education charity the Royal Forestry Society (RFS), followed up on a similar one seven years ago which had also named the grey squirrel as the number-one threat. Since then, options for all rodent control have narrowed and survey respondents report widespread concern that no existing control method is very effective. However, there is widespread support for immunocontraceptive research supported by the UK Squirrel Accord, and the introduction of predatory species such as pine martens in some areas, although it is recognised there are limited suitable habitats in lowland England for such introductions.

Two thirds (66 per cent) of respondents ranked the grey squirrel threat to broadleaf woodland as high or very high, compared with 62 per cent for pathogens already present in the UK (such as ash dieback and acute oak decline) and 38 per cent for deer – a figure that has changed little from a similar survey by the RFS in 2014. The highest number of responses came from the South East and South West of England and the West Midlands, where grey squirrel densities are among the highest.

READ MORE: Tree targets ‘futile’ without grey squirrel control

Some of the country’s best-loved trees are among those respondents reported as being the most frequently damaged – sycamore, oak and beech, followed by sweet chestnut, field maple, birch and hornbeam. All conifer species are ranked lower than broadleaf species but some damage is reported.

More than 40 per cent of respondents use various silvicultural practices to mitigate the risk of grey squirrel damage, including growing tree species which are least susceptible to grey squirrel damage such as wild cherry, lime, yew or conifers.

Although it is generally recognised that grey squirrel control is only really effective when carried out on a landscape scale, 90 per cent report no coordination of grey squirrel control with neighbours.

Full results are available at

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