Sunday, 31 January 2016

11th Duke of Bedford blamed for unstoppable grey squirrel invasion

The 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell, was one of the worst culprits of Victorian "squirrel spreading"

By Sarah Knapton, Science Editor
1:31PM GMT 26 Jan 2016

With its seemingly unstoppable spread through Britain, the grey squirrel has come to exemplify the danger posed by non-native species.

But a new study suggests that without the bungling actions of well-meaning Victorians, the squirrel would not have reached such huge numbers, or ventured so far.

Imperial College has found that the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell, was one of the worst culprits of ‘squirrel spreading.’

“The most important introduction occurred in 1890, when 10 grey squirrels imported from New Jersey were released at Woburn Abbey."

The Duke, an eminent animal conservationist, not only imported 10 of the creatures from America, but released them into the grounds of his home of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, and sent them to friends across the country as presents for their own estates.

He also released populations in Regent's Park, creating the current London epidemic of greys.

“It was a time when we didn’t know invasive species could cause so much damage,” said lead author Dr Lisa Signorile whose study shows that the popular notion of a grey ‘super-squirrel’ is nonsense.

“The most important introduction occurred in 1890, when 10 grey squirrels imported from New Jersey were released at Woburn Abbey.

"Woburn squirrels were later distributed as gifts across a minimum of seven sites in the UK and Ireland, but no systematic documentation of these translocations was kept, so the number of propagules from Woburn may have been greater.

“Grey squirrels are not as crazy invaders as we think – their spread is far more our own fault.”


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