Features

What to do with a squirrel (without getting prosecuted)

Well, you could set it an obstacle course. Or serve it up with shallots

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

Gardeners are up against it. There are thousands of garden pests, exciting new ones discovered every day, and few remedies left with which to fight them. The wonderful cure-all chemicals we once depended on have long been banned — they ‘cured’ a little more than was intended.

And how do you repel that king of garden pests, the alien grey squirrel? Squirrels destroy baby birds, bulbs, fruit, young trees just as they begin to look like real trees, and bird feeders too. Not (yet) the human variety of bird feeders, but the peanut and seed containing varieties. At this time of year they are frantic for food and liable to chew up your beloved buds; the females become aggressive in spring and can attack. If you ever attempt a close encounter with a grey squirrel you will discover that they have a vicious bite.

The solution looks simple at first. You find a squirrel chewing the feeder and the nuts which you extravagantly left there for the birds, so you buy a ‘squirrel-proof’ feeder. I have an attractive one, a kind of cage with the column of peanuts safely enclosed. I also have a photograph of a feeder with a squirrel cosily curled up inside it, having a scoff.

Some people swear by a half-spherical plastic baffle placed above or below the nuts. If placed above, the baffle gets repeatedly dive-bombed until it disintegrates. Place it below, and the squirrels shin up the post and chew away the plastic nut which secures the baffle to the post. It has to be admitted that hours of fun may be had watching squirrel ingenuity, especially, perhaps, watching them attempting to climb a well-greased pole (try auto grease or Vaseline) — before they find a handy tree to leap off in order to approach from above.


Some people build a series of obstacles on a tightrope leading to peanut heaven in order to save the squirrels a trip to the gym. A better idea might be to buy one of those wireless doorbells, cover the receiver part in plastic wrap and bury it in your peanuts. A satisfying effect can be produced by pressing the ringer mid-feed. You can try a variety of ringtones. If you have a gun, a bird feeder does persuade a squirrel into offering itself as a perfect target.

You may trap a squirrel — but beware imposing ‘unnecessary suffering’. Gunless, you are stuck with the problem of disposal. Don’t try drowning it or attacking it with a spade. People have been prosecuted for that. I’m afraid escorting your prisoner to a distant place and releasing it into the ‘wild’ is illegal, because they are vermin. And anyway they will find their way home. I know of someone who painted a squirrel blue before releasing it many miles away. It wandered back for another coat.

Because this is vermin you ought to be able to persuade your friendly neighbourhood vet to expensively destroy your new pet. On the other hand they may refuse to have anything to do with that, having spent the previous day mending a poor squirrel that some kind person rescued after a traffic accident. You could try a butcher, though: squirrels make good eating. St John restaurant in Smithfield serves them with shallots. The Wild Boar Hotel, near Windermere, has served up squirrel in Asian-style pancakes.

Squirrels demonstrate one of the particular problems of attempting to defeat pests in a garden. All results appear to be variable. One person’s amazing solution does absolutely nothing for the next person. All squirrels are not equal: some are easily foiled with plastic baffles, others have uncanny abilities.

It’s more of a mystery why some slugs with apparently little brain or expertise in experiments will happily find a way to scale any obstacle, even a razor blade or shards of glass, while others are deterred by a little grit. Evolution, I suppose. The progress of slugkind depends on defeating human ingenuity. Some moles run a mile from the noise of a child’s windmill stuck in the ground, so we are told. Others would not be deterred by a landmine but would plough on relentlessly through your lawn.

The lesson, then, is to know your own pests, watch and learn from their behaviour, see what dents their confidence. And beware, at all costs, the garden expert. Your desperation will make you vulnerable and eager for ‘infallible’ solutions, but the garden ‘expert’ has acquired this status by no better means than having attended a horticultural course some time in the previous century, or perhaps having written amiable nonsense about deterring deer with lion dung for The Spectator. In short: look to the squirrel and learn. You need his persistence, determination, and ingenuity to stand a chance of protecting your garden.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Anne Wareham’s Outwitting Squirrels: And Other Garden Pests is published next month.

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Show comments
  • HeavitreeMaid

    When my father was a boy during the war he used to shoot them with his air rifle and was paid by the government a small sum (a penny, possibly) for each squirrel tail he brought in and presented to the official in charge of the scheme in the locality. Being a bright little chap he soon found out where this person disposed of them and took to retrieving and recycling them and told me that he was paid six times over for one.

    Perhaps the government could encourage the youngsters of the present day to take up this activity. Pest control using air rifles, I mean, not fiddling the system.

    • WTF

      Osborne fiddles his numbers all the time !

  • sfin

    Alternatively, you could contact your local air rifle club, any of whose members will gladly come along, clear your squirrels (and any other pests), dispose of the carcasses responsibly and offer to split any harvested meat – all entirely free of charge.

  • Picquet

    Kill, peel, simmer, eat.

  • MrLouKnee

    my lord, what a bunch of savages you are. i love watching squirrels in my garden running round digging holes and burying their nuts.

  • WTF

    I just enjoy watching our dog chasing the squirrels who torment her running along the top of the fence.

  • camjan2

    Preparation method

    Dredge the squirrel pieces in the flour and set aside.

    Warm the claret in a saucepan.

    Heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the pancetta and squirrel pieces and fry for 4-5 minutes, turning regularly, until golden-brown all over.

    Add the warmed claret, thyme, bay leaf and lemon zest to the saucepan containing the squirrel and simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the squirrel is cooked through. Season, to taste, with sea salt and a pinch of cayenne pepper.

    Meanwhile, for the mushrooms, heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the shallot, garlic and mushrooms for 4-5 minutes, or until golden-brown. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and stir in the parsley.

    For the autumnal vegetables, preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.

    Bring the chicken stock to the boil in a saucepan then turn off the heat. Add the butternut squash, celeriac and turnip. Heat for five minutes, or until slightly softened. Remove the vegetables from the stock using a slotted spoon and set aside.

    Add the honey to the stock, return the mixture to the boil and continue to boil until the volume of liquid has reduced in volume and resembles syrup.

    Arrange the butternut squash, celeriac, turnip, beetroot and onion on a large baking tray. Drizzle with the olive oil and pour over the reduced stock mixture. Add the bay leaf and thyme and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

    Bake the vegetables in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until tender.

    To serve, arrange the vegetable slices on the serving plates. Top with the squirrel pieces and spoon over the mushrooms. Sprinkle with the flatleaf parsley and toasted pine nuts.

  • Callipygian

    Good lord! Paranoid much? It’s just a squirrel, for heaven’s sake! I doubt that you have had a grey squirrel enter your top-floor apartment and eat your brandy chocolates from the box. Well, I have. And I’m still here to complain about it.

    Grey squirrels are treated like the anti-Chr-st in Britain, and there’s no good reason for it. They are more opportunistic and less particular in their food sources than are red squirrels: that is all. If the reds move out when food is scarce, the greys move in because they are the Chinese takeaway eaters of the rodent world. Once moved in, they stay, and the reds don’t come back. That is regrettable, but it’s hardly the greys’ fault.

    I live around greys all the time, since I live in America. They are part of the landscape; they provide a nice mammalian counterpart to our many birds (Florida is a bird paradise). They don’t do any harm here. They are part of the fun of life.

  • Bestuv Burke
  • Anthony Papagallo

    they made my life a misery destroying the garden. I soaked some brazil nuts in anti freeze for a week then pushed them into the nougat of sliced up snickers bars and left them in strategic places around the garden, two days later it looked like a biblical plague, even my neighbour, bless her, found half a dozen dead squirrels laying about her lawn.
    by the week’s end I had counted twenty four dead squirrels, mothers, father, babies, it was truly spectacular, some of their corpses showed self inflicted wounds where the anti freeze had driven them mad and they had gouged at themselves, awesome stuff.
    I leave poisoned brazil nuts around all the time now, just in case, but it seems they got the message and stay away.

    Garden is looking lovely too.

  • Dan O’Connor

    ” alien squirrel ”

    There is no such thing as the Red Squirrel or the Grey Squirrel only the Squirrel Race
    These are just meaningless far-right wing social constructs .
    All Squirrels bleed red and they are both decended from the same ancestral amobea in the continent of Gondwana

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