There has been media coverage in the Times and the Daily Star off the back of a statement from Minister Goldsmith to the House of Lords last week, in which he mentioned that the Roslin Institute is researching ways to breed infertility into females.
The articles highlight the work by the Roslin Institute into studying several options for grey squirrel population management, claiming that one plan to control the species would be to capture thousands of male grey squirrels and inject them with a compound that kills off the X chromosome during sperm production, meaning all offspring would be male.
The coverage notes that grey squirrels carry a virus which is fatal to red squirrels and also that grey squirrels damage millions of trees each year, undermining the woodland regeneration government is working towards.
A Defra group spokesperson said:
Invasive non-native species such as grey squirrel and muntjac deer threaten our native biodiversity and cost the economy £1.8 billion a year.
The Government is committed to ensuring the wide ranging impacts of invasive non-native species are reduced, and the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order which came into force in December 2019 is an important tool to achieve this aim.
Defra, Natural England and the Forestry Commission are signatories to the United Kingdom Squirrel Accord, working with over 30 other signatories, including Red Squirrels Northern England, to secure and expand red squirrel populations. Defra has provided a total of £244,000 for work by the Animal and Plant Health Agency for the development of a fertility control method for grey squirrels. Further research is needed; however, the results continue to show promise as one potentially effective and humane method to control grey squirrel numbers in the longer term.
Gene drive research at the Roslin Institute is separate to Defra’s support to the United Kingdom Squirrel Accord.