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Volume 707: debated on Thursday 12 February 2009


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to eradicate the disease which is killing red squirrels in Formby on the north west coast. [HL1191]

The Forestry Commission and Natural England are partners in the “Save our Squirrels” project that is working with local people and organisations in the Formby Red Squirrel Reserve and surrounding buffer zone to control grey squirrels, believed to be the source of the squirrelpox virus, and to remove diseased red squirrels in the hope of reducing the spread of the disease. The Forestry Commission has also entered into a Red Squirrel Woodland Improvement Grant agreement with woodland owners close to Formby to support the control of grey squirrels. Previous outbreaks in the squirrel reserve have not been sustained, but red squirrel populations have been impacted.

Squirrelpox cannot be eradicated without first understanding how the disease is transmitted within and between grey and red squirrel populations. We will then be better informed about how to minimise risk of transmission and how vaccine might be targeted. The Scottish Government are funding a three year PhD study into how the squirrelpox virus is transmitted from greys to reds and investigating the possibilities of a vaccine. This study, which began in June 2007, is being undertaken at the Moredun Institute and is costing around £100,000 per annum for three years. Furthermore, the Wildlife Ark Trust has raised £250,000 of funding for the first stage of a programme which will last two years, to develop a squirrelpox vaccine for the red squirrel.