Many unique species will increasingly face extinction unless drastic measures are taken to safeguard their survival, argues PETER FROST.
JUST a few weeks ago I reported on threats to our native hedgehog species Erinaceus europaeus, and how — without some important human assistance — it might be extinct within 15 years.
Unfortunately it is just one of a number of seriously threatened British mammal species in Britain. Some of them I have dealt with in previous ramblings and some I’m sure I’ll have more to say about in future columns.
Here is Frosty’s Red List: the Scottish wildcat, European hare, hazel dormouse, red squirrel, water vole, bottlenose dolphin, harbour porpoise (below) and greater horseshoe bat.
Some, like the European otter, are doing so well I might just be ready to remove them from the list — but for now they still need help and encouragement to thrive. The otter, once looking like it might be hunted into extinction, is now spreading to waterways all over the country. Of course, some Tory hunters might try to bring back otter packs.
Some exotic invasive mammals are doing really well but often to the disadvantage of our native species. American mink, for instance, are the biggest threat to our native water vole.
Grey squirrels don’t just squeeze out our native reds but also carry a virulent squirrel pox harmless to them but fatal to reds.
The edible dormouse (above) has spread from the Tring, Hertfordshire estate where it was introduced and is now a local pest. Perhaps we need to start eating them again. The Romans kept them in jars of wheat and honey where they literally stuffed themselves ready for roasting.
Some migrants have lost the battle. The coypu, a giant South American rat bred in farms for its nutria fur, escaped and caused havoc undermining the banks of waterways in East Anglia.
A huge campaign managed to wipe it out in the late 1980s and the last animal died under the wheels of a journalist’s car. Ironically the reporter was on his way to a press briefing to announce the elimination of the coypu.
Reintroductions of previously native species have seen the beaver make a welcome return to some British rivers. They will help improve our rivers and reduce some of the disastrous flooding we have seen recently.
Today there are exciting plans to bring back two of our larger native mammals that have been driven to extinction in the past: the lynx and the wolf.
Did you know the last wild wolf in England was shot on what is now the main runway of Heathrow Airport? It happened in the 1590s, but in Scotland the wolf held on for another 200 years.
These two carnivores would certainly help to control the huge growth in native and introduced species of deer which are proving a real problem in some parts of the country.
However, farmers and so-called sporting estates will do all they can to resist both lynx and wolf introductions and the new Tory government will certainly take the side of the shooters and hunters rather than the wildlife organisations that would like to see these two native species return.
Britain today is home to less than 100 species of native mammals. Sixty-six are resident species of native mammals and an additional 30 are migrating or visiting species.
Nearly two dozen are bats and another two dozen are cetaceans, whales, dolphins and related species. Five are seal species.
Two dozen terrestrial species have seen serious decline since the 1960s and a dozen terrestrial species and five cetaceans are on the official IUCN red list of endangered species.
Apart from roadside rabbits, squirrels in the park, foxes and badgers dead beside the road and the occasional house mouse in the kitchen, it is quite rare to see a wild mammal in Britain unless you specifically go to look for them.
Perhaps that’s why they get much less attention than birds. Mammals need our help for their continued survival and our countryside without any of them is a prospect we shouldn’t even contemplate.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 12 June 2015.