London Nature Notes: The Grey Squirrel

By Londonist Last edited 82 months ago
London Nature Notes: The Grey Squirrel

Grey squirrels are everywhere in London, scurrying around in parks, raiding bird feeders in gardens and nesting in attics. Their fondness for chewing off the insulation from electrical wires has landed them on the pest control list. Needless to say, not every Londoner loves them.

Although local councils make it clear that squirrels should only be exterminated by professional pest control officers, a home owner from South-West London got so fed up back in 2007 that he started killing them with his air pistol. A look at an airgun forum shows that there is still much debate over the morality of such action.

Some even go so far as saying that the animals should be eaten. A north London Budgens reached the national news last year for selling squirrel meat. The grocery store enticed much anger from the animal welfare organisation Viva, who claimed that they are cashing in on a wildlife bloodbath. A quick run to the shop reveals that the meat is still on the shelf.

There was also a big story about squirrels going nuts on crack cocaine in Brixton in 2005, after dealers started hiding their stash in the ground in response to a police effort to curb drug use. Residents said they feared that they’d soon be terrorised by squirrels looking for a fix, referring to a similar case of doped-up rodents in New York and Washington. A spokesperson for the RSCPA explained that squirrels would die soon after eating crack, so this seems like another urban myth.

A widespread misconception about the grey squirrel is that they are responsible for the decline of the native (fluffy-eared) red squirrel. By the time the North-American squirrel was brought to Europe in the 19th century, the British reds had already disappeared from Scotland and Ireland due to deforestation and habitat loss. Most of the remaining population in England was wiped out by pest control. First the red squirrel was seen as a villain and now the same fate befalls the grey.

For those who want to feed them, squirrels love munching on unroasted peanuts (with or without shell). But remember to be careful. They have very sharp teeth and nails, so keep a fair distance to avoid bites and cuts. It’s highly unlikely that squirrels carry rabies, but it’s best to have any injuries checked out.

Words and pictures by Mischa van den Brandhof.

Got any anecdotes about London's squirrels? Love them or hate them? Let us know below.

Last Updated 01 July 2011

Sam Stoten

failed to mention their destruction of trees and stealing the eggs from rare birds nests..

Colin Wren

Although I bought into the 'grey killing reds' myth so I used to hate them but even I have to admit they are funny when they scurry along trees, here's a picture I took in Kingston-upon-Thames.


I don't like them. I can't leave my back door open when not in the room as squirrels come in, as do foxes, and 'do their business'. Have been trapped in the house recently when squirrel wouldn't get off doorstep and trie to come in evry time I opened the front door! I live in east London zone 3, not the countryside.


What's the authority for any of this? There is plenty of very good evidence that the grey squirrel is out-competing the red. Why are they immune to "deforestation and habitat loss"?  As for the idea that that they are long since extinct in Scotland, that's backwards.  Actually 85% of Britain's red squirrels are in Scotland -- not surprising considering that's where most of Britain's untouched forest survives.


These pictures are amazing - they make me see squirrels totally differently? How does she get them? So cute!

Dave H

I wish they would stop digging up my plant pots. I'm a poor enough gardener as it is, without squirrels vandalising my mediocre horticulture.


Just moved next to Greenwich park, and made the mistake the other day of throwing a nut to a squirrel rather too close to my back door. Poor judgement I know, but the inevitable happened and the squirrel tried get in. The problem for the squirrel was the door was shut as I'd thrown the nut from top window. Cue very confused squirrel literally throwing itself against the glass..very funny,.but slightly scary to see how aggressive they can be....lesson duly learnt!