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LONDON - It's low in fat, low in food kilometres and completely free range. In fact, some claim sciurus carolinensis - the grey squirrel - is about as ethical a dish as it is possible to serve on a dinner plate.

The grey squirrel, American cousin of Britain's endangered red variety, is flying off the shelves faster than hunters can shoot them, with game butchers struggling to keep up with demand.

"We put it on the shelf and it sells. It can be a dozen squirrels a day - and they all go," said David Simpson, director of Kingsley Village shopping centre in Fraddon, Cornwall, whose game counter began selling grey squirrel meat two months ago.

At Ridley's Fish and Game shop in Corbridge, Northumberland, owner David Ridley says he has sold 1000 - at 3.50 ($8.89) a squirrel - since the beginning of the year. "I wasn't sure at first, and wondered would people really eat it. Now I take every squirrel I can get my hands on. I've had days when I have managed to get 60 and they've all sold straight away."

Simpson likens the taste to wild boar. Ridley thinks it is more a cross between duck and lamb. "It's moist and sweet because, basically, its diet has been berries and nuts," he said.

Both believe its new-found popularity is partly due to its green credentials. "People like the fact it is wild meat, low in fat and local - so no food miles," says Simpson. Ridley reckons patriotism also plays a part: "Eat a grey and save a red. That's the message."

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