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Making a meal of battle to save reds; Restaurant puts grey squirrel on the menu.

Byline: By Tony Henderson Environment Editor

DINERS in the North-East could soon be asked to make a meal of protecting the region's endangered red squirrel.

A Lake District hotel is putting grey squirrels on the menu this week and restaurants in the North-East could follow.

It follows a visit by Channel 4's Wild Gourmets programme to The Famous Wild Boar Hotel at Crook near Windermere, which created Peking duck-style squirrel pancakes.

This week the hotel is giving diners the chance to try the squirrel pancakes for themselves, offered free as canapes.

The greys were caught in the hotel's 72-acre woodland grounds and have been prepared by hotel head chef Marc Sanders.

Hotel general manager Andy Lemm said yesterday: "Although we do still have red squirrels, the greys are everywhere. Our diners seemed to enjoy the squirrel pancakes and I thought they tasted rather nice, a bit like rabbit."

In Northumberland, Lord Redesdale's Red Squirrel Protection Partnership specialises in trapping and despatching greys to protect the reds. The partnership has killed 4,521 greys since January, and Lord Redesdale said yesterday: "The problem is that when we catch and despatch greys, there is nothing we can do with them. We would like to be a supplier of grey squirrels. With an estimated five million greys in the country, there are enough of them to go round."

James Cookson runs the Flying Fox sales and marketing venture for food and rural businesses from his Meldon Park mansion near Morpeth, which also features the Comfort at Meldon Park restaurant. He said: "Grey squirrels can be eaten and there is no reason why they shouldn't be eaten. It makes sense if you are catching something to make use of it. We have some grey traps set at the moment and I would be willing to try it, without a doubt. If we could get enough greys and a suitable recipe then I can see no reason why it shouldn't be on the menu.

"Our reds are disappearing, and perhaps the more greys that are eaten, the better it is for the reds."

Carri Nicholson, manager of the Save Our Squirrels project based at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: "It is far more ecologically and environmentally sound to find a use for what is being trapped.

"A number of places in Northumberland are thinking of having grey squirrel on the menu. I haven't tried grey squirrel but people I know who have say it tastes like chicken used to taste when it tasted like chicken. The Americans have numerous recipes for grey squirrel, with the most popular being Brunswick Stew, which is casseroled squirrel."

Giles Ingram, executive director of Northumberland Tourism, which is backing the Made in Northumberland food campaign, said: "We are holding a series of events with chefs and perhaps we can verbally test the idea with them, and also see if any hotels or restaurants are up for it."

Last year Lord Inglewood, who lives near Penrith in Cumbria, warned the red squirrel will soon become extinct if the non-native grey population is allowed to go on inc reasing.

He suggested then that one way of dealing with the problem would be to foster a market for grey squirrel meat.

He said: "What about celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver promoting it for school dinners? I have never actually eaten a grey squirrel but I am prepared to give it a go."

The Wild Gourmets programme is broadcast tonight at 8.30pm.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT? A grey squirrel feeds while sitting on a tree. Left, Chef Marc Sanders with squirrel pancakes.; WILLING: James Cookson.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 16, 2007
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