Animal Aid organise joint letter to Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers in defence of grey squirrels

Posted on the 29th November 2019

Animal Aid recently organised a joint letter to Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers to speak out against the revocation of licences to rescue and return grey squirrels to the wild. The letter received lots of support, and was co-signed by celebrities including Ricky Gervais and Sara Pascoe, other animal protection organisations, animal rescue organisations and faith groups.

On 1st December, Natural England will be revoking all licences previously issued to rescue centres to rescue and release grey squirrels back into the wild. This required a special licence due to the grey squirrels’ ‘non-native’ status, despite the fact they have been in Britain for 150 years.

The letter reads:

Dear Ms Villiers

We are deeply concerned about plans to revoke licences to rescue and release grey squirrels, as of 1 December 2019.

Rescue organisations have spent the entirety of 2019 anxiously waiting for their licences to rescue and release grey squirrels to be revoked. This licence is the only lifeline offered to vulnerable orphaned and injured grey squirrels, and removing it is cruel and unnecessary.

Grey squirrels are continuously blamed for a variety of ‘crimes’, such as reducing the number of red squirrels, and damage to forests and the timber industry. While we believe that grey squirrels are being unfairly scapegoated, it is vital to remember that the number of grey squirrels released back into the wild is not statistically significant, and could therefore have no meaningful impact on woodland or other species.

We believe that effectively outlawing squirrel rescue represents an excessively harsh interpretation of EU Regulation 1143/2014, on ‘invasive species.’  The European Commission, for example, has stated that ‘There is neither an obligation for Germany to eradicate the raccoon from its territory, nor is there an obligation for the UK to eradicate the grey squirrel from its territory.’

The government has recently clarified that it may still be possible for rescue centres to keep grey squirrels under licence, but without releasing them. While we welcome this positive step, it by no means represents a solution to the problem. Rescue centres will quickly become full, and squirrels’ welfare needs cannot be fully met in captivity.

As well as causing significant animal suffering, preventing squirrel rescue will have a devastating impact on people. Specialised wildlife rescuers have dedicated many years of their life to helping these animals, and having to turn them away would be heartbreaking for them. Just one example is Urban Squirrels, a rescue centre which is co-run by a young adult with autism, and whose life has been enriched by his positive interactions with squirrels.

With the General Election fast approaching, all eyes are on the Conservative Party and the decisions it makes. If the Conservatives are serious about showing their compassion for people and vulnerable animals, then they must immediately withdraw these cruel and damaging plans.

We urge you to ensure that Natural England re-issues licences for the release of rescued grey squirrels, without delay.


AIA (Animal Interfaith Alliance)

Animal Aid

ASWA (Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals)

Carol Royle

Catholic Concern for Animals

Derek Sarno

Dr Mark Jones MVSc MSc (Stir) MSc (UL) MRCVS

Folly Wildlife Rescue

Dr Christina Nellist (B.Ed; PhD.) & Pan-Orthodox Concern for Animals

Pennines Wildlife Rescue


Peter Egan

Peter Tatchell

Ricky Gervais

Sara Pascoe

Summerisle Rescue

Urban Squirrels


Wendy Turner-Webster

Whitby Wildlife Sanctuary

Wildlife Lodge



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