A snippet from my volunteer work on the ‘Dedicated Naturalist’ Project, helping to decipher and digitise, record and publicise the life’s work of naturalist extraordinaire, Dr Mary Gillham. This is an extract from a piece called ‘Oak trees and rabbits helped by those crafty grey squirrels’, written by Mary for the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society newsletter, June 1997:
We hear a lot about the squirrels’ intelligence in overcoming man’s best efforts to deter them from appropriating victuals put out for others. Recent work … has revealed their native wisdom in dealing with more natural foods.
Many acorns are invaded by weevils, which are as acceptable as squirrel food as is the surrounding nut, but which shorten the life and viability of the fruit. Acorns collected are assessed for longevity by the squirrels, the infected ones eaten and the sound ones buried for another day. This guarantees them a surer food supply for winter and benefits the oak population by giving a higher than average viability of the acorns left to germinate and provide tender shoots for rabbits, rodents and sheep.
The squirrels’ ability … [is] from a high level of intellect evolved to better their own lot and – as part of the general wider plan governing the complex web of nature – to benefit others. Natural mechanisms of behaviour have more repercussions than are at first apparent!