GREY squirrels are to be shot in a popular South Lakeland community woodland in a bid to protect the red squirrel population.

Windermere Town Council has granted the Westmorland Red Squirrel Society permission to carry out the shootings in a humane manner in Elleray Woods at times when the public is not present.

The decision brings the woods in line with surrounding land regarding rules on managing grey squirrel numbers.

It is necessary to manage the grey squirrel population as they compete with the reds for habitat, and pass on 'squirrel pox', a disease which kills the native animal.

"Red and grey squirrels have been sighted in Elleray Woods," said Bob Cartwright, secretary of the WRSS. "Red squirrels are so important to this area, and to preserve their population we need to keep in control of the greys which endanger them.

"We have had consent to trap grey squirrels for some time, but trapping does not work during times of year when there is plenty of natural food about for the squirrels to eat.

"When there is a plentiful supply of food around, squirrels won't usually go in the traps.

"The most important thing that we stressed to the council was that we will be doing this with absolute discretion at times when the public are not around - so probably very early in the morning.

"If there are any members of the public around at the time, then we just won't do it."

The WRSS explained that the shooting would be undertaken by skilled and fully insured individuals. The proposal is supported by the Lake District National Park Authority and South Lakeland District Council. The National Trust has this arrangement on neighbouring land.

Windermere Town Council voted in favour of allowing the shooting, with Cllr Adrian Legge proposing the approval and Cllr Lisa Greasley seconding the motion.

Mr Cartwright also highlighted how people can help the red squirrel population themselves.

He explained that people can feed red squirrels to supplement their food supply, and also recommended the use of bird feeders with grills around them which prevent grey squirrels from accessing the food contained within.