The decision by Ministers to scrap mandatory assassination of grey squirrel immigrants who are ousting our native reds is seen as an example of more coalition cronyism by critics.
Red squirrels are now exiled to forgotten corners of England – like the north east and strange backward south coast islands of the Isle of Wight and Brownsea.
In the tourist honeypots of London parks, however, the grey squirrel is a cute attraction as well as a pronunciation challenge.
But in the shires and beyond, the grey is condemned by gardeners and nature lovers, as burglar of bird tables and birds’ eggs, biter of bulbs, and all round garden thug.
“Never mind the Red Tape challenge, this move could threaten the reds with extinction” said Hilary Benn, former Labour Environment Minister and MP for Leeds. “It’s something of a political fable, taking endorsement of blatant bullying of the socially disadvantaged to our gardens and woods. It’s an attack on the north too and shows no respect for our natural history.”
Equally outraged was wildlife presenter Chris Packham “This plague of fat grey rodents spreads pox to the reds, feeds on fledgings and savages saplings.” He ranted “Given bashing the noble badger is condoned it is incomprehensible that our government is allowing this American immigrant the freedom to plunder and infect our flora and fauna.”
“We are not giving up on the reds and will continue to protect them where they remain.”
Said an unrepentant Environment Minister, Owen Paterson, “By lifting the regulatory burden of squirrel sighting and culling we really are helping hard pressed families. the move will also help us reduce the welfare budget and demand on food banks. In northern England, grey squirrel meat is already being sold by some butchers. Eliminating mandatory squirrel murder by the authorities means this increasingly important source of free range protein will be available for the northern poor to catch and cook for free – and they’ll be doing their bit to protect the reds.”
Free range forager Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was unavailable for comment - however insiders tell us Defra hope he will stop carping on about fish and go up north and eat squirrel.