Domestic cats are more destructive and invasive than grey squirrels, a conservation scientist has claimed.

Ever since they were imported from America in the 19th-century grey squirrels have flourished at the expense of the smaller and more timid red squirrel, a native species.

However, Jason Gilchrist, an ecologist at Edinburgh Napier University, has argued that the greys, which are being culled across the UK, cause far fewer problems than cats.

grey squirrel

In an essay, he branded the beloved feline pets an “invasive alien species” that is responsible for the death of millions of wild birds in the UK every year.

“There are 11 million pet cats in the UK which kill about 27 million wild birds every year and around 92 million wild prey in total,” he said.

“It is often argued that killing grey squirrels is justified as they predate bird nests. They do, and so do red squirrels, but there is scant evidence that squirrels have a significant impact on songbirds. While domestic and feral cats decimate songbird populations, they are unlikely to be targeted for culls any time soon.”

Dr Gilchrist insisted that the inconsistency could not be justified. “Domestic cats are seen as being pets, whereas grey squirrels are generally perceived as being pests and are demonised,” he said. “The ecological impact is quite similar in terms of the role that they play: they don’t belong here and are having negative effects on wildlife.”

He expressed sympathy for the idea that pet cats should be kept indoors. “As an ecologist, I would rather we didn’t have lots of cats running around in the countryside. I totally understand how that’s an extremely controversial thing to put forward. People can get very emotive and territorial about cats and, in many cases, feel they are members of their family. My aim is to bring some logic and consistency to the way we treat animals.”

The RSPB said that it was not overly concerned by cat predation of garden birds. A spokesman said: “There is no clear scientific evidence that such mortality is causing bird populations to decline. There is evidence that cats tend to take weak or sickly birds. It is likely that most of the birds killed by cats would have died anyway.”

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