I AM very lucky, living in a fairly remote little village, because we have rather few grey squirrels. However, when they have a good breeding season in the surrounding woods the population pressure gets too high and a few adventurers arrive.
For a fruit and vegetable gardener like me they are not welcome. As well taking underripe fruit such as cherries and plums, they can have most of my cob-nut crop away just before they are fit. The trouble is they are hard to catch in this time of relative plenty. Given the choice between succulent cob-nuts and a few grains of maize in a cage trap, the squirrels will treat the maize with disdain.
“Nuts in May” is a crazy suggestion, hence the discussion of squirrel control this month. May is one of the leanest times for the grey squirrel, with autumn’s harvest but a distant memory, and little chance of any new seeds or fruits for a while. For the next couple of months, a handful of maize is an attractive prospect, so now is the time to try to catch squirrels and prevent trouble later.
Many Field readers will be aware that poisoning with warfarin is an effective method of grey squirrel control. However, this is never likely to be appropriate for a garden: aside from safety issues, warfarin is only licensed for preventing damage to commercial timber in the context of squirrels, so damage in gardens is not covered.
Instead, the gardener should trap them. Squirrel traps and standard mink cages are widely available and suitable. Multi-catch cages can be useful for high concentrations, but single-catch traps are cheaper and usually suffice in the garden.
Whole maize is the most practical bait, and it has the advantage that squirrels eat the germ only, leaving the yellow part untouched. This is a useful sign even if you don’t see the pests. To catch squirrels, simply set your trap in a quiet corner and bait it.
It can pay to pre-bait for a while, throwing a few handfuls of maize far and wide and pegging the trap open with a generous handful of maize inside. Once the squirrels start to visit, they often attract their chums, and this can result in several catches a day when you first set.
After you have caught a squirrel, you must kill it. Possession of live grey squirrels and release back into the wild are rightly illegal. To destroy humanely you simply run the animal out of its trap into a hessian sack, box it into the corner, and give it a sharp blow on the cranium with the likes of a fisherman’s priest.
After this comes the ultimate revenge; squirrel casserole. Don’t be put off by the “tree rat” reputation, squirrels are delicious.
Mike Swan is head of education at The Game Conservancy Trust.