18/5/2020

Grey squirrels in the garden?

By Mike Swan, Head of Education

Squirrel hopperLiving in a fairly remote little village, I count myself lucky, for there we have few grey squirrels. However, when they have a good breeding season in the surrounding woods population pressure gets high, and a few adventurers arrive. For a fruit and vegetable gardener like me, they are not welcome, and I do not much care for them pinching my bird nuts either.

Fortunately, grey squirrels are pretty easy to trap, at this time of year, when natural food is scarce. All you need is a simple cage trap (a mink trap is ideal, and clearly has a second use if you are into mink control as well). For bait, whole maize is the standard recommendation, but a few peanuts from the bird feeder will work well too.

Rather than set the trap all the time, and have to check every day, you can prop the door open and chuck a handful of bait inside to entice the squirrels in, and lull them into a false sense of security! The GWCT has also developed a nifty hopper, with a lift-up lid for easy squirrel access. Pre-baiting this way draws them, but doesn’t feed mice and rats. Maize is particularly good, as they usually only eat the germ, leaving the yellow, horseshoe-shaped endosperm as a telltale sign as to who is visiting. Once this happens, you can close off the hopper and set your trap.

Having caught your squirrel, you must kill it. Both possession of live grey squirrels and release back into the wild are rightly illegal. To destroy humanely, you simply run the animal out of its trap into a hessian sack, box it into the corner, and give it a sharp blow on the cranium with the likes of a fisherman’s priest.

Squirrel meatAfter this comes the ultimate revenge: squirrel for supper! Do not be put off by the ‘tree rat’ reputation – squirrels are delicious. In their native North America, there are closed seasons and bag limits, and Brunswick stew is a classic dish. There are lots of recipes for this, but it is basically a casserole with onion, potato and lima beans.

As an alternative, but for young ones only, I favour Prue Coats’ method for making party nibbles. To do this, cut the saddle and haunch meat into 1cm dice, and then dip in flour and beaten egg. After this, roll in chopped hazelnuts and shallow fry in butter till golden brown. Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and stab each piece with a cocktail stick before handing round, with a lemon mayonnaise dip.

Party nibbles

The combination of squirrel and nuts seems highly appropriate, and for extra amusement, you can refrain from telling folk what they are eating until the plate is cleared!

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