LEADERS of faith-based animal-welfare groups have condemned a change in the law which, they say, would prevent their rescuing grey squirrels.
Currently, wildlife rescue organisations working with “non-native” species, such as grey squirrels, in England are granted government licences to rescue and rehabilitate a limited number of animals each year. Under the Invasive Alien Species Order 2019, which comes into force on 29 March, however, those licences will be revoked.
Now the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals, Animal Interfaith Alliance, Catholic Concern for Animals, and Pan-Orthdox Concern for Animals have co-signed an open letter asking that animal rescue is exempt from the legislation. They also urge people to sign an online petition to Parliament from the London-based group Urban Squirrels backing the exemption. It has so far garnered 42,720 names.
Grey squirrels, first introduced from the United States in the 1870s, are regarded as pests that out-compete native red squirrels and infect them with squirrel pox virus. They can damage trees by feeding on their bark. A Newcastle University study in 2016 estimated that there were more than three million greys in the UK, compared with 140,000 reds.
The wildlife groups’ letter claims that the impact of the number of greys released by welfare groups is statistically insignificant, but the licence ban would have a “profoundly significant impact” on injured animals, and cause distress to rescue staff and vets. The secretary of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals, Samantha Chandler, said: “Surely even invasive species deserve the right to humane treatment if they are sick or injured?”
The founder of the charity Pan-Orthodox Concern For Animals, Dr Christina Amelia Nellist, said: “There is, indeed, an argument that this Act impinges upon our faith and our duty as Christians to care for ‘all things’ in creation.” She points out that, in Matthew 14.5, Jesus declares his views: “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a sabbath day?” She says that Christ is outlining “a framework of compassion for all of his creatures in need of help, which stands at odds with any teaching that offers a purely anthropocentric and utilitarian reading of protecting a possession or asset”.
A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Invasive non-native species, including the grey squirrel, challenge the survival of our rarest species.”