The Grey squirrel is approximately 25 cm long with a 22 cm tail. Both sexes are of similar size and weight, around 500 grams. The body is adapted for climbing and jumping, with sharp claws for gripping and a long bushy tail for balance.

Red squirrels are smaller, lighter and have ear tufts. Although predominantly red in appearance red squirrels may, confusingly, show some grey on the back in winter. The Red squirrel is a protected species and has not been seen in the wild in Oxfordshire or the Home counties for many years.

Where to find them

Grey squirrels build nests or dreys of twigs/leaves in the forks of trees. The squirrels are most active in the two hours following sunrise and preceding sunset, showing reduced activity during the daytime. Both red and grey squirrels will eat a wide range of items such as nuts, fruit buds, shoots, fungi, birds eggs and nestlings. In urban areas a large amount of food will be derived from bird feeders. Surplus food is buried for retrieval in times of scarcity.

Spread of disease

Squirrels are not normally associated with any diseases which are transmissible to man.

Structural damage

The most serious damage arises once grey squirrels enter the roof spaces of houses and other buildings by climbing walls, gutter downpipes or jumping from trees. Once inside they will chew woodwork and ceilings, strip the insulation from electrical wiring, tear up fibreglass insulation in the construction of dreys and even sometimes drown in cold water storage tanks.

Outside squirrels will strip bark from trees, dig up bulbs and plants and dig holes in lawns to bury food.

Control methods

The most effective form of control is exclusion. Do not encourage squirrels into your garden by feeding them, and ensure that all roof spaces are secure.

Control of squirrels is usually carried out using traps, poison or shooting. Only spring or cage traps approved for the purpose may be used and all traps must be inspected at least once daily. Squirrels may also be poisoned with a plain wheat bait containing 0.002% Warfarin liquid.

There is, however, a mass of legislation relating to the control of squirrels and it is therefore recommended that the services of a trained pest control professional are employed. This will ensure that the problem is resolved quickly and safely with minimum risk to non target species.