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Sunday 11 December 2016

National Botanic Gardens turning blind eye to grey squirrel plague

Joe Barry

Published 30/03/2010 | 05:00

MID-MARCH might seem a strange time of year to visit a garden, especially after the prolonged cold snap we have endured, but a visit to the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin is always worthwhile.

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At this time of year the conifers hold pride of place before the leaves and blossoms appear on the adjoining shrubs and broadleaves, but even the deciduous trees look magnificent when bare. The varied trunk shapes, bark and branch formations can be enjoyed while in stark contrast to the evergreen species. The newly restored palm house and adjoining curvilinear range (glass houses) contain many wonderful and rare plants gathered from every corner of the world.

Spring is also the time for choosing specimen trees and shrubs for our own gardens. It is perhaps wise to first see how they really look rather than relying on a picture in a gardening magazine or wondering what some small plant in a nursery will be like when fully grown.

Eradicate

The grassy areas are planted with many spring flowering bulbs and the daffodils will be in full flower when you read this. The crocuses, snowdrops and aconites were looking their best as I wandered around the grounds, but one, now common feature of the gardens, rather spoiled my visit. It was the presence of grey squirrels and other pest species.

It was really sad to see how those in charge have still done nothing about the plague of these tree rats which I watched feasting on the petals of multicoloured crocuses. Both the botanic gardens and the adjoining Glasnevin cemetery are overrun with grey squirrels and, despite a national campaign to eradicate them, the directors of the gardens ignore their presence.

The botanic gardens close at 6pm and reopen at 9am. Surely staff have ample time to humanely dispatch greys without offending the public, who may still be unaware of the need to remove greys from our midst.

Our native red squirrel is nowhere to be seen, and the most populous species evident in the gardens were grey squirrels, magpies and grey crows. All of these species prey on the eggs and young of songbirds, and are present in unsustainable numbers. We provide them with food and places to breed by discarding rubbish. Road kill and food such as dumped chips and burgers provide magpies and grey crows with abundant food, and I even saw people in the gardens feeding the squirrels, presumably in the mistaken belief that they were some kind of nice, cuddly native creature.

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The fault lies with those in charge of the gardens who allow the thousands of visitors to remain ignorant to the threat greys present to our native species. The grey continues to destroy hundreds of hectares of broadleaves annually and threatens the survival of the native red. What chance have we of raising awareness of the need to control them if they can be seen in abundance in supposedly well-managed parks?

Raid

An award of €2,000 was provided last year to gun clubs to encourage the shooting of greys and this is proving quite successful in containing their numbers in parts of the countryside. This is just one initiative and more are needed, especially while ignorance prevails as to the damage they cause.

This scheme was criticised in the letters column of one of our newspapers. The letter writer suggested that the €2,000 on offer would be better spent in protecting trees by fencing out the greys. What an idiotic suggestion. Anyone aware of the abilities of squirrels to raid bird feeders and climb over seeming impossible obstacles would realise the stupidity of this idea. Imagine trying to make a 20ha woodland squirrel- proof? Perhaps I could form a Glasnevin gun club for a weekend squirrel shoot?

But please do not let this put you off visiting these gardens, for they are truly one of our national treasures. When on your way out maybe you would leave a note at the visitors' centre for the director and management, asking them to please do something about the greys. The future of the red squirrel and our native woodland species is at stake.

Irish Independent



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