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The UK’s wildlife is on a decline with a report stating that 1 out of 10 of its wildlife species are at risk of becoming extinct. Moreover, since the 1970s, the population of endangered species in the UK further decreased by as much as 65%. As of 2016, the number of critically endangered species in the UK reached 165. With the significant drop in the abundance of its wildlife, the UK is now considered “one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world”.
Various factors account for the decline in the number of wildlife creatures in the UK. Topping the list is habitat destruction. Industrialisation, deforestation, climate change and modern agriculture practices are decimating natural wildlife habitats. Unfortunately, while these problems were long identified as the culprits, they still continue today. This explains why the UK has been losing one in six plants and animals.
Birds are perhaps one of the animal groups with growing number of species joining the red list. While some avian species in the red list like the bitterns and nightjars significantly increased their numbers and moved to the green list, those that joined the red list grew to 67 in 2015 from 52 in 2009. Different conservation groups say that over 25% of the UK’s birds are now on the red list.
What Are the Most Endangered Animals in Britain?
The most endangered animals in the UK include the puffins, capercaillies, water voles, Scottish wildcats, and hazel dormice.
One of the most distinctive features of Atlantic puffins is their bill which is coloured bright orange during spring. Apart from this, they have orange legs and red and black markings around their eyes. Sometimes referred to as sea parrots, they spend most of their time out at sea and feed on small fish. Some of the best places to see puffins in the UK are Lundy Island and South Stack Cliffs.
Drastic changes in the marine ecosystem because of climate change is believed to be greatly hurting the population of puffins and other seabirds. Water temperatures are causing a decline in planktons which is the primary food of small fish like sand eels. Due to this, the number of sand eels, which is the staple food of puffins, is dropping as well. With little food available for them, the breeding success of puffins is significantly affected. In addition, newly born chicks end up starving due to food shortage.
Currently, experts are working together to better understand puffin behaviours and breeding patterns. There is also an ongoing initiative to track them and their feeding areas. By doing this, conservationists are hoping to device strategies to protect these areas for puffins to have ample food supply.
Capercaillies are the largest members of the grouse family. When it comes to their size, they are as big as turkeys. The females tend to be larger than the males. What sets female capercaillies apart from other birds is the patch on their breast which is rusty red. In the UK, these big woodland grouses are found in Scotland, particularly in pine woods and commercial plantations of conifers.
Reports indicate that in the past two decades the population of capercaillies in the UK has dropped by as much as 50%. Furthermore, a survey revealed that their numbers dropped from over 2,000 in the early 1990s to just a thousand between 2015 and 2016. Capercaillies previously became extinct in the UK in 1785. In 1830, they were reintroduced in Scotland.
Predation, climate change, urbanisation and accidents due to deer fences are the major causes of the declining capercaillie population in Britain. Conservationists are implementing projects to safeguard their habitats to prevent these popular woodland grouses from going extinct again.
Often mistaken as rats, European water voles have short and blunt noses compared to rats. Their ears are also smaller and less prominent. Furthermore, unlike rats which have slender bodies, water voles have rounder bodies and their tails are covered with hair. They live along grassy banks and feed on fruits, grasses, tree barks and insects.
Water voles used to be a common sight in many waterways in the UK. Unfortunately, 90% of these sites no longer have them. Currently, water voles in Britain are tagged as the most threatened mammal with their number rapidly declining compared to other species.
In addition to the pollution and the development of banks where they live, the introduction of the American mink caused the catastrophic decline in the population of water voles. The minks, which are carnivorous, prey on the water voles. In fact, an entire vole colony can be annihilated by just a single mink.
Efforts are underway to control mink population in Britain. Experts say that the resurgence of otters are partly helping in this effort, since they prey on minks. Meanwhile, improvement of riverbanks and reintroduction schemes are also being done. Some of the places where you can see water voles are Coughton Court and Spernal Estate and Richmond Park.
Also referred to as the Highland tiger, the Scottish wildcat is the only living native feline in the UK. These “small” tigers look just like domestic tabby cats but are typically bigger and heavier. They also have stripy furs and bushy tails with blunt tips and black bands. It is believed that wildcats settled in the country some 6,500 years ago.
Persecution is one of the reasons why their population declined. However, the biggest threat to the existence of these revered Highland tiger is hybridisation. Scottish wildcats are breeding with domesticated cats, which are invading their habitats, causing the decline in the population of pure-breds. However, some experts are contesting this, saying that crossbreeding has been ongoing for 2,000 years.
There is a protection law passed in 1988 that prevents people from disturbing and illegally shooting Scottish wildcats. Special Areas of Wildcat Conservation were also designated for the protection of these native felines from domestic cats.
Hazel dormice are nocturnal animals with big black eyes and golden-brown or sandy-orange fur. They are most commonly found in woody vegetation, coppice woodland and old hedgerows. Their diet is very diverse, from oak and willow flowers in spring to aphids and caterpillars in summer.
Considered one of the UK “most endearing woodland animals”, the hazel dormice are on the brink of extinction with a report stating that their population dropped more than 70% in just two decades. It is still not known what is causing the decline, however, just like in other species, habitat loss and climate change are believed to be driving it.
The big drop in dormice population is extremely alarming because various conservation schemes have been implemented to protect them and improve their numbers. With the current reality, conservationists are calling for the immediate review of existing protection schemes before it’s too late.
The puffins, capercaillies, water voles, Scottish wildcats and dormice are just some of the endangered animals in Britain. There are more animals that are at risk of becoming extinct. Ensuring that all endangered creatures are saved is a daunting task. Conservation groups and government agencies cannot do it on their own. It requires the involvement of everyone including you. So, please do your share to help preserve these animals.
Atlantic Puffin photo by Theo Crazzolara
Flying Puffin photo by Wildlife Boy1
UK Water Vole photo by Peter G Trimming
Capercaillie photo by dpalmer_md
Scottish Wildcats photo by Chris Parker2012
Hazel Dormouse photo by Ettore Balocchi