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The red squirrel is one of the UK’s most threatened native mammals, predominantly due to the threat posed by non-native grey squirrels, which out-compete red squirrels and spread the squirrel pox virus which is deadly to reds.
It is a priority for Natural England to prevent the release of any such non-native species that might have a negative impact on our native fauna and flora.
Natural England’s policy, therefore, is to not issue licences to release grey squirrels in counties or areas where red squirrels are, or may be, still present. Outside of those areas, licences are currently only issued for the re-release (within 1km of their point of capture) of rehabilitated animals that were originally taken from the wild for tending or treatment, or for immediate release of individuals at the same location from physical entrapment.
A list of species of Union concern, identified under the EU Invasive Alien Species Regulation 1143/2014, will be coming into force later this year and will impose restrictions on the keeping, breeding, sale, transporting and release of 37 listed plants and animals, including the grey squirrel. Once this happens there may be a need to consider changes to the way Natural England licenses the keeping and release of these species. As a consequence Natural England is limiting grey squirrel licences to one year only.