A week off work saw me spending several hours in the woods controlling grey squirrels with my air rifle for a local landowner. This particular wood is used for forestry and as a pheasant shoot, so grey squirrels are not welcome. An introduced species from America, grey squirrels are disliked by foresters because they deform or even kill trees by gnawing their bark, and they are an enemy of the gamekeeper because they are also partial to the eggs and young or pheasants. Squirrels also prey on songbirds, so controlling their numbers can be beneficial to native wildlife.
Absolute eradication is not the aim as a small population of squirrels is actually beneficial to other wildlife. The dead tops of gnawed trees provide habitat and food for wood-burrowing insects, which in turn attract species including woodpeckers.
The squirrels were very active during my outing as they are busy feeding-up on the heavy crop of acorns. This autumn feeding frenzy results in increased opportunities for the hunter and the squirrels are distracted by the abundance of food.
The ones I bagged on this occasion didn't end up in the pan. They went to a friend who is always happy to accept squirrels on behalf of his hungry ferrets. I kept the tails, though. These are stored in the freezer until I have a large bundle that I post to a fur and feather merchant who sells them on to trout and salmon fishermen who use the fibres to tie flies. The money I make in this way makes a welcome contribution to the cost of my ammunition over the year.