Can You Legally Shoot Squirrels in Your Garden in the UK?

Squirrels are everywhere in the UK – predominantly grey squirrels. Grey squirrels have multiplied quickly since they arrived in the UK from North America in the 1800s, so they can sometimes be seen as pests. If they’re in your garden and destroying your trees (or fence), there might be a few things you can do. 

You can shoot squirrels in your garden legally in the UK, but only if they’re grey squirrels. Red squirrels are considered an endangered species and, as such, are protected from hunting by law. Still, while you can shoot grey squirrels in the UK, you can only do so under certain conditions.

This article will look at the laws surrounding hunting red and grey squirrels in the United Kingdom and the most humane (and legal) ways to kill a grey squirrel. 

Is It Illegal To Shoot Gray Squirrels in the UK?

Grey squirrels are often labelled as pests in the UK, causing some issues for farmers and forestry staff. They are protected by the law, but not as wholly as red squirrels. 

gray squirrel sitting on a tree

It is not illegal to shoot grey squirrels in the UK, but it must be done under specific circumstances. You are legally obliged to shoot them once, and this must be fatal with no unnecessary suffering. This is why it is probably better not to shoot any grey squirrels in your garden.

Note: Obviously you have to legally own a gun too, and have an up to date license. That’s a whole different article, so I’m only dealing with the legality of shooting squirrels with a gun that you legally and safely own.

Even if they venture into your garden, you must follow the guidelines laid out by the government. This means not killing them unnecessarily and only doing so by shooting or using certified, legal traps (source: The British Association for Shooting & Conservation).

The government only permits this due to grey squirrels’ reputation as pests. If they are on your property and you follow the set guidelines, you can shoot them.

However, you cannot shoot grey squirrels if they are not on your property or you don’t have permission from the landowner (source: Pests Banned).

What’s the Actual Law on Squirrel Hunting in the UK?

Since grey squirrels are carriers of a virus which affects the red squirrel population, hunting them is allowed in the UK. This is permissible as long as you have permission from the landowner (or it occurs on your own property). 

The law on squirrel hunting in the UK states that you cannot cause suffering to any wild animal. According to the Wildlife Act, you can only shoot grey squirrels or trap and kill them using sanctioned methods. However, you are not permitted to hunt red squirrels in the UK since they are endangered. 

The Wildlife Act of 2006 allows the killing of grey squirrels either by no more than 2 blows at the back of the head or one shot in the head. However, unless you are a seasoned professional, you might end up breaking the law and causing the squirrel to suffer – so it’s always best to remain cautious (source: Bird Spot).

Additionally, the law specifies that you can’t set free any grey squirrel back into the wild (Source: Edinburgh Napier University).

You will need to report to your local wildlife conservation trust if you have killed a grey squirrel by lawful means in the UK.

Remember that you could be served a hefty fine for going against these laws, and you could even go to jail if you are found to have abused a wild animal (source: UK Government). 

How To Humanely Kill a Squirrel in the UK

The most humane way to kill a squirrel is with one shot to the back of the head. However, grey squirrels are very quick, so it’s best to do this using a trap. 

You are legally allowed to use certain traps in the UK, as long as they have been certified. Fenn traps are most commonly used. Additionally, many pest control experts have poison that will humanely kill grey squirrels, though this is not accessible to the general population (source: The British Pest Control Association).

gray squirrel caught in a trap

Here is a rundown of the specifications you will need to bear in mind when using traps to kill a squirrel in the UK humanely: 

  • Traps should be level on the ground at all times. 
  • You must be able to inspect the trap at least twice a day. If you cannot do this, you should not be setting any traps. 
  • If you catch a red squirrel, you will have to let it go since it is illegal for you to kill it. 
  • You can only kill a grey squirrel with one gunshot to the back of the head or by no more than two sharp swipes to the head. If it takes more than this, you are being cruel and breaking the law. 
  • If you are unsure you can do this, it’s better not to set traps at all. 

You will find that the laws regarding hunting are pretty stringent in the UK, so bearing in mind what you can and cannot do is essential (source: British Red Squirrel). 

Squirrels in your garden might not be ideal, especially if they destroy your tree barks and eat bird food. However, you should only kill them (humanely) if you are fully competent, and probably as a last resort.

Stu Mott

Proud Yorkshireman, busy father of three, appreciate getting good value deals and you can't beat a pint of real ale to reward yourself afterward!

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