SQUIRREL-LOVERS are furious as a new order could mean rescue centres will have to turn away injured animals.

The Invasive Alien Species Order set to come into effect in October says Natural England will no longer issue release licences for grey squirrels, which were introduced to the UK in the 1870s.

Natalia Doran, 54, founder of rescue group Urban Squirrels, said: “These are animals that have been in the country for 150 years. We are not adding to the population by taking them in and returning them to the wild again.

“I don’t feel that humans have a duty to manage nature and if they do they should do it humanely.

“If we are only allowed to keep, not release them, the rescue centres will fill up in no time and then we will have to start turning injured squirrels away.

“The animals will suffer and it will be traumatising for the people and children who brought them in.”

It comes as there is a rise in sightings of rare albino squirrels, sometimes called white squirrel, in Sussex.

They include Stuart the blind squirrel, who was found about two years ago by Bexhill and Hastings Wildlife Rescue and Sanctuary.

He had severe injuries, but was nursed back to health and now lives at the centre.

Eastbourne resident Claire Brimacombe saw an albino squirrel last November, and was so taken with the animal she started a Facebook group called White Squirrels of Sussex in which she records sightings of them.

The 43-year-old said: “Despite a one in 100,000 chance of an albino or white squirrel being born, sightings have been on the increase in Sussex. Since starting the page, I have had about 60 sent in to me.

“Rescue centres in the UK will no longer be allowed to help injured or orphaned grey and white squirrels and will have to either turn them away or kill them.

“I know a lot of people are up in arms about this order, it just doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Claire is supporting a national petition which aims to make grey squirrel rescue exempt. It has been signed more than 53,000 times.

But, a Government minister said there was a need for it. Biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “Invasive non-native species, including the grey squirrel, not only challenge the survival of our rarest species but damage some of our most sensitive ecosystems, costing the economy more than £1.7 billion per year.

“This order prevents the release of these animals back into the wild to help protect the endangered red squirrel, with only 15,000 left in England. There is no requirement for vets to euthanise injured or healthy squirrels as a result of this order.”