• Rae Gellel

Is Greenwich Park Trapping and Killing its Resident Squirrels?

Is this a lethal squirrel trap in Greenwich Park?

Greenwich Park squirrels are somewhat of a local institution. For many families in the South East London borough, a day spent in the iconic park, armed with a bag of monkey nuts*, is a reliable school holiday activity. In pleasant weather, kids excitedly coaxing squirrels can be as numerous as the critters themselves - the thrill of feeding the animals at close quarters only surpassed by persuading one to climb up an arm or a leg.

What locals probably don’t realise, however, is that the killing* of grey squirrels and other species such as deer, rabbits, birds, and foxes is a regular practice across London’s Royal Parks, with around 12,000 animals killed by park authorities between 2013 and 2017 in the name of wildlife ‘management’.

Greenwich Park is no exception.

Whilst its track record pales in comparison to the organisation’s other green spaces - Bushy Park is responsible for around 6000 deaths in the total four-year count - Greenwich Park does not shy away from killing its most popular, bushy-tailed resident.

A Freedom of Information Request made by Animal Aid revealed the killing of 319 Greenwich squirrels between 2015 and 2017. A subsequent Request by grey squirrel advocacy unit, Urban Squirrels, suggested that the park subcontracts ‘pest’ control services from a company called ‘Beaver Pest Control’.

The Trap

On Monday, I took a shortcut through Greenwich Park.

Since learning of its brutal wildlife management policies, I’ve had mixed feelings about visiting.

As a Greenwich borough native, I can’t help but associate the park with happy memories, with feeding the ducks as a child or drunken trysts at the bandstand as a teenager. These images don’t quite square with images of squirrels having their necks snapped.

In 2019, wildlife organisations circulated a photograph of a dead squirrel hanging from a trap in Kensington Gardens, another Royal Park. Since then, any time I spend in Greenwich Park is fraught with tension, a fear that I might stumble upon a similar trap.

And on Monday, that’s exactly what happened, when I spotted this contraption suspended from a tree. Since it’s in a fenced-off section, I wasn’t able to get a clear look, but it doesn’t appear to be a regular bat or bird box. And whilst it doesn’t resemble the trap at Kensington Gardens, it does strongly resemble several squirrel traps that I found online, like the ‘Fenn Bird Box’. See below for a comparison.

These particular traps are designed for discretion, to look like bird boxes and hide the lethal mechanism within. Presumably, in Greenwich Park’s case, this will protect families who visit with the sole intention of feeding the squirrels from the knowledge that others are dead and dying within a few feet of them.

Since squirrel season has recently begun, the loss of life incurred by the traps will also include newborn and infant squirrels, who will likely starve to death if their mothers are killed.

If a reduction in overall animal numbers is really a necessity in the Royal Parks, then it is questionable why non-lethal methods of achieving this have not been investigated. Since populations tend to mirror the availability of food sources, reducing the feeding of animals in the park by humans is a possibility. This is particularly true of species such as foxes, with research suggesting that culling is an ineffective means of removing them from an area. Vacant fox territories are quickly filled by new individuals, and as a result, even government policy recommends humane deterrents and prevention strategies, and yet the Royal Parks opted to kill 330 foxes in a four year period.

In regards to grey squirrels in particular, trapping is part of a wider campaign of persecution, carried out on the basis that they are non-native. The most damming of the accusations made against them is that they displaced the native red squrrel, but this is an over-simplification, neglecting other crucial factors in the red's decline, such as habitat loss. Reds require far more specific forest conditions than the highly adaptable grey squirrel, conditions that became scarce in post-industrialised Britain. This, combined with rampant hunting, led to them verging on extinction in Britain in the 18th century; the greys were not introduced until the 19th, when they were deliberately released into the wild.

In response to this decline, the red squirrel was then re-introduced from Scandinavia, making the current populations genetically distinct from the original, native red. On a global scale, neither species is endangered; both have a conservation status of ‘least concern’. So, is it really worth killing millions of greys, who are here through no fault of their own, to better the chances of another non-endangered species, that isn’t genetically native either, and is also much more fragile, sensitive to habitat loss and human influences - but just happens to be red!?

*Peanuts are actually of limited nutritional value to squirrels - much better to offer them other kinds of nuts, fresh fruit, and vegetables!

*I’m using the word ‘kill’ throughout this blog post as I’m tired of how the word ‘cull’ implies something other than what it is - mass-killing.

RELATED: Read The Animalist's Interview with Natalia Doran, Founder of Urban Squirrels