Once upon a time, there were countless cute little red squirrels bouncing about all over the UK, but as the years have gone by, their numbers have been decimated by the introduction of their grey squirrel cousins.
While arguably just as cute, these grey squirrels are a lot more destructive than their red counterparts, stripping bark from trees and costing the timber industry millions each year, eating bird eggs and little chicks, damaging fruit and maize crops and outcompeting red squirrels for food and habitat.
They also carry a lethal squirrel pox virus to which they are immune, hence the disparity in population numbers between the two.
There have been many different solutions put forward to help control grey squirrel numbers, but a new research film from the University of Exeter Business School, due to be shown this month (November), is looking into the potential of emerging gene drive technology to see if that could make a difference.
This would involve modifying squirrel genes to enable sex biasing, which could mean that all grey squirrels would be born male, rendering the species unable to reproduce.
In some quarters, this represents a possible way to gain control of an invasive species and protect local biodiversity, but for others, this kind of technology is “a biological bomb that threatens natural ecosystems”.
Writer and producer Sarah Hartley, a professor in technology governance at the business school, said: “The film draws on our social science research to show the complexity of the problem of grey squirrel control and invites you to think about whether scientists should develop gene drive squirrels or not.”
It’ll certainly be interesting to see if this technology is rolled out for squirrel population control… but in the meantime, if you do have an infestation on your hands, get in touch with us today to discuss humane squirrel pest control around the UK.