Leatherhead's Wildlife Aid Foundation (WAF) are urging residents to help them protect squirrels after new legislation prevented the group from taking them in.

Previous rules that allowed WAF to take in and look after vulnerable or poorly squirrels have been revoked under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) rules relating to invasive species.

The Foundation can now no longer legally give help to squirrels who might need it.

The charity would risk being closed down permanently if they flouted the latest regulations.

Consequently, they are offering residents advice should they encounter vulnerable squirrels.

"Any contravention of the regulations could lead to the permanent closure of the charity, so we have no choice but to refuse to take any grey squirrels in.

"We can, however, offer advice and we urge anyone who finds an injured or orphaned grey squirrel to call us before taking any action," a spokesperson for WAF said.

WAF previously sheltered orphaned and injured grey squirrels but have since been restricted to keeping them in captivity only — a rule that the group condemns.

The charity said that the late winter period is crucial for squirrels as they begin to rear their young around this time.

WAF's centre in Leatherhead previously sheltered vulnerable squirrels most often during this time of year and the group now hope to give residents advice, though they still do not advise people taking in squirrels themselves.

"Squirrels start to raise their young early in the year and Wildlife Aid Foundation would normally see young begin to arrive next month (February).

"Most come to us from members of the public, gardeners and tree surgeons because their nests have been disturbed through tree felling.

"We would urge all those involved in tree felling in the County to be vigilant and ideally adopt the wildlife-friendly practice of only felling between October and February, as birds also nest outside of this time.

"If a nest is present, call a wildlife centre before taking action," WAF said.

Unlike their smaller Red cousins, Grey Squirrels are not native to the UK but were imported from North America in the 19th century.