Shared Earth is a new series from the BBC Natural History Unit which celebrates the natural world and explores what we can all do to help conserve wildlife and habitats and reduce our footprint on the planet
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Friday 9 November 2007
Dylan and Fergus the Forager prepare a Mesolithic feast.
Squirrels: Reds v Greys
Grey squirrels were introduced to Britain as a curiosity in the 1870s but it wasn’t long before they were being regarded as pests, damaging to commercial woodland and to the native red squirrels. Since then long and expensive campaigns have been mounted to remove the greys and reinstate the reds, so far to little effect.
Professor Stephen Harris of Bristol University believes the time has come to give up, to accept that the grey is the top squirrel and concentrate our attentions on helping out the red on islands like Anglesey and the Isle of Wight. Lord Redesdale of the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership believes that efforts so far have failed because they’ve concentrated on removing greys from relatively small areas.
His group aims to wipe out grey squirrels from the whole of Northumberland by 2009. With a £150000 government grant he’s already making progress, with reds returning to breed at 18 sites in the county.
Earlier in the series Dylan met Fergus Drennan a chef and wild food guru intent on surviving for a year on nothing but foraged food. Archaeologist, Karen Hardy of York University heard the programme and got in touch with Fergus. Her tough task is to reconstruct the diet of Mesolithic man, Britain’s last hunter-gatherers.
Beyond a few animal bones and sea shells they’ve left little evidence behind of their diet but a new technique involving the analysis of calcified plaque deposits from teeth is offering Karen the chance to learn much more. All she needs is a control sample, someone willing to eat Mesolithic foods for a year. That way she can see exactly the marks those foods leave behind in the plaque.
Fergus is happy to volunteer but he’s also keen to use his knowledge of cookery to demonstrate some of the flavour and texture combinations that might have kept ancient man interested in his food.
The Common Seal that’s anything but
Callan Duck of the Sea Mammal Research Unit is a man with an enviable job, flying around the coast of Scotland counting seals. The work of his team revealed the shocking decline in Common Seal populations around the UK.
The reasons for the decline are still mysterious but there may be a connection with the long, slow rise in the Grey Seal population. Greys are larger and may be more effective at exploiting fish and sand eel stocks in areas they share with Common Seal. It’s hoped that research by the SMRU and other bodies will confirm the real cause before the Common Seal crisis turns into a disaster.