Pushed to the brink of extinction

A recent report by the Wildlife Trust has revealed that a fifth of Britain’s wild mammals are at risk of extinction, pushed to the brink by farming chemicals, loss of habitat, loss of nesting sites, cars, disease and the introduction of alien species.

A number of mammals most at risk have seen their numbers decline rapidly over the last ten years.

THE OTTER (IMPROVING)

Pushed to the brink of extinction by farming chemicals leaching into the waterways, and unkept rivers and streams. But after huge conservational effort otter numbers are on the increase across Britain.

WATER VOLE (AT RISK)

The water vole population is the most rapidly declining of all, with loss in 94% of

places where they were most prevalent. In the past the water vole could be seen in ditches, streams, burrowing into the banks and feeding on reeds. Habitat loss, water pollution and predation by the North American mink are the main causes of decline.

RED SQUIRREL (AT RISK)

The introduction of the American grey squirrel in the 1870s left the red squirrel competing for food and habitat. Now they can only be found in Cumbria and Scotland. It is possible to see them at the Brownsea Island Nature Reserve in Dorset. The red squirrel population in the UK is thought to be as low as 140,000.

HEDGEHOG (AT RISK)

In the past ten years the number of hedgehogs has dropped by over 30% and there are now thought to be fewer than a million left in Britain.

The hedgehog can be found across the country, in gardens and hedgerows. Their decline is due agriculture, loss of nesting sites and cars.

HAZEL DORMOUSE (AT RISK)

The dormouse is at risk of extinction due to the reduction of its woodland habitat. It can be hard to spot as it is nocturnal.
The hazel dormouse, to

give it its proper name, lives in deciduous woodland, hedgerow and scrub.

GREATER HORSESHOE BAT (AT RISK)

Over the past 100 years the population
of the Greater Horseshoe bat has declined by 90% caused by the increase in pesticides, artificial lighting and the reduced number of insects due to changes in agriculture, which are their main source of food. Mostly found in the South West of the country.

POLECATS (IMPROVING)

Pushed to the edge of extinction the polecat was the target for gamekeepers up and down the land trying to protect young game birds.

Very slowly their numbers have started to increase. The size of a ferret, the polecat is part of the family that includes the stoat and the badger and likes lowland woodland habitat and even farm buildings and drystone walls.

BEAVER (GETTING BETTER)

The beaver became extinct in Britain in the 16th century after being hunted for its fur, meat and the oil in its scent glands. In 2009 The Scottish Beaver Trust released five beavers into the wild in a Scottish river – the first to be seen wild in 400 years.

This was the first formal reintroduction of a native mammal species in Britain. The beaver is Europe’s largest rodent and known for building dams which divert and slow down running water. There are currently six family groups on the River Otter in Devon and two beaver kits were born last week in Cornwall.

RABBITS (DECLINING)

Believe it or not rabbit numbers have declined by 10% since 1995, mostly through disease and being hit by cars. Rabbits are seen in fields and farmland grazing on root vegetables and tree bark.

Stuart Clarke

Author: Stuart Clarke

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