June 4, 2009 / 1:37 PM / 10 years ago

Tree-loving Prince Charles calls for squirrel cull

A squirrel is seen in St. James Park in central London May 2, 2007. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain’s Prince Charles is urging landowners to eradicate gray squirrels to save trees from being destroyed.

“The greys are doing immense and increasing damage to hardwoods all over the country and threaten to compromise all our efforts to restore native woodlands,” the heir to the British throne wrote in a letter to Britain’s Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Grey squirrels damage broadleaved trees by nibbling the inner bark, making it hard for owners of forests and woodland to grow the hardwoods required for financial viability, the CLA wrote in a study.

The prince added that wiping them out would also be the only way of saving Britain’s native red squirrels, which are smaller and weaker than their grey counterparts.

Unlike the grays, red squirrels can die from a virus carried by both species of squirrel, and the squirrel parapoxvirus is believed to have killed up to 80 percent of the red squirrel population in certain parts of the country in 2008.

“The prince is a big land owner and tree-lover,” CLA spokesman Oliver Wilson said on Thursday, “that’s why he has such a strong interest in this issue.”

Grey squirrels are not native to Britain but have spread rapidly across the country since being introduced from the United States and Canada around the start of the 20th century.

In the past, politicians and environmentalists have discussed measures to limit the boom of the grey squirrel, which has few natural predators and is classed as a pest. One politician has even suggested celebrity chef Jamie Oliver encourage schoolchildren to eat them.

Under a British law passed in 1981, it is illegal to release a grey squirrel into the wild after it has been trapped. Instead it should be humanely destroyed.

Reporting by Josie Cox, editing by Paul Casciato

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