Saturday, August 30, 2008

Grey squirrels are now a problem ...

to get your teeth into

– as a tasty snack with a mayo dip

Published Date: 30 August 2008
By Jenny Haworth
Environment Correspondent

THE idea of killing thousands of grey squirrels to protect native reds may leave some with a bad taste in their mouth. However, those put off by the idea of culling the furry-tailed animals are now being advised to start seeing them as food, as it is claimed grey squirrels make very tasty meals.

Thousands of greys are being trapped and shot in the Borders in an initiative to protect their native red cousins from a lethal pox.

Dr Mike Swan, head of education at the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, is suggesting we make the most of the bodies – by eating them.

Squirrel stew has long been on the menu in Dr Swan's household. He has eaten grey squirrel – rumoured to have been the favourite snack of Elvis Presley – for the past 20 years. He also has a taste for casserole and strips of fried flesh rolled, appropriately, in chopped hazelnuts.

The meat, he says, tastes a little like chicken, and he claims a squirrel can provide enough to satiate one hungry human. "They are rather hard to skin but what's inside is very nice to eat. It's like a slightly firmer, textured chicken and less strongly flavoured than rabbit," he said.

Many grey squirrels carry a pox that leaves them unaffected, but is lethal to the reds, killing them within weeks. However, Dr Swan said it does not concern him that the meat might be infected. "There's no issue with it affecting us in any way," he said. "It's not a disease we are susceptible to."

He first stumbled across the idea of eating squirrel meat when his father was asked to provide ten animals for a US embassy banquet in London. In North America, Brunswick stew has long been a popular dish, and is traditionally made with squirrel meat.

Dr Swan said: "It's popular there to the extent that they have pretty strong controls on hunting of grey squirrels. They have a completely different view of the grey squirrel to the tree rat view we have here."

Richard Wales, project manager of Red Squirrels in South Scotland – which has launched an initiative to cull thousands of greys to prevent squirrel pox spreading north through the country – has also tried the meat. "It doesn't come much more organic," he said. "It's sustain-able and it's extremely low in cholesterol."

He agrees, however, that one drawback is that it is difficult to skin. "It's not like a rabbit where it slips off like a sock; you really have to use the blade and pull the skin back."

He thinks some people will eat it out of curiosity, but admits that it might not catch on with everyone.

"The vast majority of people aren't really into eating what they kill," he said. "The majority of people wouldn't wring a chicken's neck for a Sunday roast." However, he thinks it is a good idea for people to give it a go.

It is believed that some gamekeepers are already making money out of selling grey squirrels for their meat, fetching up to £3.50 for a brace. And in Northumberland, where more than 18,000 greys have been killed in the past 18 months, some butchers have even started selling squirrel meat.

However, Ross Minett, campaigns director for Advocates for Animals, said: "I am sure that many people will feel that this is a pretty sick and opportunist idea." He added that the causing of unnecessary suffering to a grey squirrel was "not only cruel but a prosecutable offence".

The initiative by Red Squirrels in South Scotland is using a trap loan scheme to urge members of the public to help catch greys in their gardens.

A hotline number will be set up, so squirrel control officers can be called out to take away trapped animals to be shot.

The aim is to stop squirrel pox spreading from the Borders, where it is already common, into other parts of Scotland. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the UK's red squirrels live in Scotland, making it one of the last remaining strongholds.

The day I ate a grey… it's just like any other sort of meat

MARK Wilkinson, conservation officer at Save Our Squirrels, remembers clearly the first time he tried squirrel stew. "I started work as a red squirrel conservation officer and had heard a lot of people asking us about eating grey squirrel meat.

"Once the grey squirrels have been killed it's good to be able to do something with the bodies. "So I decided to try it. I was given a ready-dressed grey squirrel by a friend and portioned it up into the rear haunches and saddle. "Then I gently casseroled it with a few bits of vegetable and spices.....

Read the rest of the story here: The Scotsman

With recipes!

Squirrel nibbles a' la Hootsman:

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