PRINCE Charles’ call for all grey squirrels to be eliminated has received a lukewarm response from Dorset conservationists.

The respected Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) said it welcomed the prince’s call for better incentives to manage woodland but stopped short of endorsing his view that “it is absolutely crucial to eliminate the greys”.

The Prince’s comments were part of a letter sent by him to the Country Land and Business Association. In it he describes greys – introduced in 1876 as a garden pet from North America -- as “an alien species to the UK” which threatened the “very existence” of the reds.

As one of the few areas where red squirrels thrive -- along with Scotland, the Isle of Wight and Jersey; there is a colony on Brownsea Island – Dorset might be expected to back the Prince’s call.

However, DWT’s conservation officer Imogen Davenport said: “In terms of conservation to encourage the reds to recover and keep our native ones, there does need to be a carefully researched and planned programme of grey squirrel control over various areas of the mainland where the reds are. But in Dorset we don’t have that issue because of Brownsea. The sea is a natural barrier so we have an easier way to keep vigilant.”

She said the grey squirrel debate consisted of two important issues which tended to get mixed up. “One is the conflict between red and grey squirrels, which is a conservation issue, and the other is the forestry issue.

“Reds are our only native squirrel and it is recognised that the introduction of the grey caused them damage. They do out-compete the reds for food, they are bigger and more aggressive and they also carry a virus which they can recover from, but if they come into contact with each other, it’s the greys that win out.”

As a classified rodent, grey squirrels can be trapped, poisoned or shot and this tends to happen if they invade homes.

Hampshire-based pest controller Ian Woods says: “Squirrels do more damage in the loft than rats or mice put together.”