From the front lines of the squirrel war

2 minute read

The Sunday NY Times has a long, entertaining article about the defenders of British red squirrels.

"Can I, um, suggest something?" [Baron] Redesdale said to the three women. He was seated on a couch with a red-squirrel throw. "I was thinking . . . it would be great to form a sort of mobile kill group." He explained: "We just knock on people's doors and find out if there's a gray and get them to put the traps in." One person a day, he said, would go around and do the actual killings. The women gave Redesdale a "Candid Camera" look. Was this a joke?

Yes, the leader of the resistance is a real baron, Rupert Redesdale, and the article paints a vivid picture of him along with a looney-sounding squirrel-roasting sidekick. These guys are begging to turn into a Wes Anderson movie.

Writer D. T. Max treats the American gray squirrels as metaphors for everything from Thatcherite fiscal policy to American imperialism. Which, it turns out, is sort of how they got to England in the first place. Of course, the real problem is squirrelpox -- the flesh-eating disease that gray squirrels carry without effect, but that kills red squirrels dead.

But the real treasure in this article is the House of Lords debate:

[B]efore turning his attention to Squirrel Nutkin, Earl Peel proposed conducting "a brief health check" of various other Beatrix Potter characters. "Starting with Tabitha Twitchit and Tom Kitten" -- both cats -- "they are truly on top of their game. . . . Let us now consider the status of Mr. Tod, the fox. On second thoughts, given that he has taken up 700 hours of parliamentary time, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to prolong the debate." He went on: "That brings me on seamlessly to the other really controversial character that graced the class of 1912 -- and that of course is Tommy Brock," Potter's badger. "Hasn't he done well?"
Peel continued: "Despite suffering from and carrying tuberculosis, he has successfully managed to establish himself in the hearts and minds of the nation as being more important than dairy cows or, indeed, farmers' livelihoods, and like Mr. Tod, has managed to secure his very own legislation."
Peel concluded his health check: "Squirrel Nutkin must look back on his alma mater and think to himself, 'How could it have all gone so wretchedly wrong for me?'"

Can anyone doubt that a hundred years from now, it will be SpongeBob, Patrick and Squidward making an appearance in a debate about coral reef protection?