A PEST controller on a mission to rid the land of grey squirrels is moving south – to feed the demand for squirrel pie.
Paul Parker, 45, has helped catch and kill more than 22,000 grey squirrels in the past 18 months.
The father of three is a founder of conservation group the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership (RSPP), which says trapping and shooting is the only way to save the native reds from extinction.
His method has been so successful grey squirrels have been eradicated in many parts of Northumberland, and the reds have returned. The Defra-funded group relies on an army of volunteers – many of them pensioners – to help spot and trap the squirrels. They have caught 22,622 greys so far.
Mr Parker, from Newcastle, said: “We are hoping to move down south.
“We have asked landowners down there if they need any help to get rid of the greys, to educate them as to our methods and how we catch them, using spring loaded box traps and catch live traps.
“I cannot personally get enough of these grey squirrels, people are eating them.
“If I was getting a hundred, they would take a hundred each and every day, the demand is so high.
“They are sold as soon as they hit the counter.
“I supply to order. I pick the phone up and say right, your squirrels are in.
“They are going to top restaurants, butchers, the working man.
“They are a delicacy and they are really hard to get – especially up this neck of the woods. Two years ago I was catching up to 1,000 a month and slowly it has just dwindled down to a small handful a day.”
The RSPP was formed in 2006 by Mr Parker and Rupert Mitford, the 6th Baron Redesdale.
It relies on a 900-strong army of volunteers including game wardens, families, farmers and pensioners to help stop the spread of the greys.
Mr Parker said: “Red squirrels are such a beautiful, mystical little creature. The greys are not. They are destructive because they don’t belong here; there is no place for them.
“The good thing is that the reds are coming back.
“All I got for two years was people saying you’re wasting your time, we are going to lose the red squirrels regardless.
“Now there are places where we have taken the greys away and within nine weeks the reds have come back.
“That is exciting.”