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Grey Pioneer

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A pioneer – (this one is from the Glasgow branch)

I was stunned to find that I had caught a grey squirrel in one of my mink traps this morning. Grey squirrels are fortunately still very scarce in Galloway, and I have only seen two or three lone outriders in the last ten years.

The most surprising thing about this catch was its location – on a small moorland stream high up on a remote hill farm. The nearest tree was over half a mile away, and it could be three or four miles to the nearest “suitable” deciduous woodland. To reach the trap, he would have had to cross an extensive area of hill pasture and wet peatland, much of it without even the shelter of a dyke. This squirrel was a courageous pioneer in every sense of the word, and perhaps it is no wonder that these animals are so expansive and invasive in their habits. Presumably he had taken a punt on finding pastures new, and I am only too pleased to have stopped him in his tracks on the watershed between the Rivers Nith and Urr.

It was interesting to hold the dead squirrel in my hand – this was the first chance I have ever had to get a really good look at a grey. I was impressed by the size and weight of the beast, which far outscaled the reds I see so often. Unfortunately the trap had damaged the best parts of his saddle, otherwise he would have been well worthy of the oven. I gather squirrels are often eaten in England, and I’d love to give one a whirl.

Greys seem to have stalled their advance in south west Scotland over the past ten years, and I have no doubt that much of this is to do with a determined trapping effort around Annan and Gretna. At the same time, I’ve written before about how Galloway is probably less suitable for greys than it is for reds, and our growing populations of goshawks and pine martens are probably taking their toll on the invaders. We all feared that red squirrels would vanish beneath a tide of greys when they first arrived a few years ago, but the invasion has mercifully ground to a halt.

I reset the trap and headed off on my rounds, pleased and surprised to have caught this individual but hoping that it won’t become a frequent event.

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