A MASSIVE fightback to save England's red squirrels from extinction at the paws of foreign invaders was announced today - a wildlife D-Day which animal conservationists hope could be the start of a re-conquest of huge areas of land colonised by the American grey squirrel.
But it will be a long hard fight for the grey squirrel, introduced to this country almost 200 years ago, has expanded from its bridgehead in the south to take over most of the country in the past 50 years.
In a £1 million project run by a coalition of wildlife bodies under the name Red Alert, 16 "isolation zones" will be set up to protect the few remaining families of reds in parts of Cumbria, Northumberland and the extreme northern fringes of North Yorkshire.
Grey squirrels threatening to invade these last outposts will be shot or humanely trapped within a three-mile circumference. The saviour of the few surviving reds has been the huge area of pine forest planted in the North, often to the dismay of country lovers who claim they ruin the landscape.
But such forests provide food and shelter for the reds, whereas grey squirrels thrive best in broadleaf woodland - hence their success in the South and Midlands.