Grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) in Whitfield Gardens

Grey squirrel in garden.
A grey squirrel exploring Whitfield Gardens.

Spotted around 8am this morning in Whitfield Gardens was this grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Maybe not seen before in Whitfield Gardens but many have been spotted in Fitzroy Square to the north.

Squirrels make a rough nest, called a ‘drey’, of twigs, leaves and strips of bark in the fork of a branch, high in the tree canopy. They are an invasive species and sometimes regarded as a pest and subject to some population control.

Perhaps a stranger to Whitfield Gardens but the grey squirrel is no stranger to Bloomsbury and a famous local landowner family.

“It has been thought since the 1930s that grey squirrels were all the same, spreading across the country as one invasion front. After a century, genetics has proved that this isn’t correct. They are not that good at breeding and mixing – in fact there are clear signs of inbreeding,” said Dr Signorile who was quoted in a report by Imperial College London.

“Grey squirrels are not as crazy invaders as we think – their spread is far more our own fault.” The research is published in two papers, in the journals Biological Conservation and Diversity and Distributions.

Dr Signorile also discovered that one of the worst offenders at spreading grey squirrels was the 11th Duke of Bedford, Herbrand Russell. Russell was involved in many successful animal conservation projects, but released and gifted many grey squirrels around the UK from his home at Woburn Park.

Russell also released populations in Regent’s Park, likely creating the London epidemic of greys. “It was a time when we didn’t know invasive species could cause so much damage,” said Dr Signorile.

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