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Published on : 27th January 2018

Are UK Wildlife Species Decreasing In Number?

The UK’s endangered red squirrel

Based on studies, the UK has lost more than 16% of all animals including fish and birds since the 1970s. Reports also indicate that more than 10% of UK’s wildlife species are in danger of becoming extinct. Meanwhile, the population of all endangered species in the UK have dropped by 65% from the 1970s to the present. The population of insects and other invertebrates have also decreased by almost 60%. Furthermore, as compared to the global average, the rate of loss of species in the UK is much faster. Given the aforementioned data, yes, UK wildlife species are decreasing in number.

What Are Causing The Decline In UK Wildlife Species?

Since the 1970s, the UK’s population continued to grow together with its stable and developing economy. To address the increasing population, the UK government implemented changes in its overall agricultural approach. The UK used science and technology to make huge advances in farming. It became more efficient and scientific which made harvests better every year. However, as the farming became more sophisticated and successful, the effect on native animals also became worse. In fact, studies point to agricultural change as the primary driver of dropping wildlife population in Britain.

As animals needed to be kept out of the farmlands to ensure optimal crop growth, the clear effect was a large loss of natural habitat for several of them. The animals were forced to move elsewhere to survive. Loss of habitat is identified as one of the top reasons why the UK’s wildlife species are decreasing in number. Aside from advanced agriculture, national urban development, which includes the building of infrastructure like roads, bridges, and buildings, also contributed UK’s wildlife losing their homes.


The most affected animals due to habitat loss are hedgehogs, great crested newts, grasshoppers and sand lizards. In the 1950s, there was an estimated 36 million hedgehogs in the UK. It went down to around 2 million in the 1990s. It is believed that there are now less than a million hedgehogs in the UK. Similarly, newts, grasshoppers and sand lizards have also suffered a drastic decrease in population since the 1990s.

Another cause of the decrease in UK’s wildlife population is the introduction of foreign species that compete with native ones. This is what happened to red squirrels after American native grey squirrels were introduced by the Victorians into the UK in the 1870s. The population of red squirrels, which was believed to be around 3.6 million some decades ago, is now down to an estimated 120,000. Apart from competition, grey squirrels carry a virus which does not seem to affect them but is lethal to red squirrels.

The native water vole is also suffering a similar fate as the red squirrel. However, the decline in the population of water voles is primarily caused by predation and not competition. In the 1920s, the American Mink was brought to the UK for fur farms. However, the minks escaped in the 1950s and bred in the wild. Now, they are the biggest threats to water voles. Since the 1980s, the water vole population declined by more than 90% because of the American Mink.


Scientists and conservationists are also sounding the alarm on climate change as one of the causes of the declining UK wildlife population. This phenomenon is said to be the leading culprit in the 70% drop in the number of seabirds in Britain for the past decades. Waters in Europe are changing which is affecting planktons. Consequently, sea eels which feed on these planktons are losing their food. Meanwhile, kittiwakes and other seabirds feed on these eels. With the scarcity of eels, these birds are forced to move out of their feeding areas and habitats.

With harsher storms and extreme weather, more animals are feared to lose their habitats, too. Also, with the disruption in the normal schedule of seasonal changes, animals are becoming out sync. If this persists, food supply would not be enough or available when needed.

Urbanisation, pollution and exploitation of natural resources have also contributed to the wildlife population concerns in the UK, since it has affected not only the habitats but also the air that animals breathe and the water that they drink. Bottom trawling, which has the objective to catch more fish in the ocean, has ruined sea beds and severely affected wildlife in the ocean.

What Has Been Done To Address The Declining UK Wildlife Population?

Several actions have been taken to prevent the problem from getting worse. Laws were implemented to protect certain species like what was done to the soprano pipistrelle, one of the country’s smallest bats. This has caused a resurgence in the population of this species. Similarly, the protected status of the badger has resulted in an 88% increase in its number since the 1980s.


Reintroduction of some species was also done. The beaver, which disappeared in the 18th century due to hunting, has been successfully reintroduced in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Currently, these animals are growing in number and are starting to be seen in other places in the UK such as the River Otter.  Other animal species which were successfully reintroduced include the large blue butterfly, the short-haired bumblebee and the hazel dormice.

Creation of habitats is another step that was taken to address the declining wildlife population in Britain. For example, new reedbeds were made to provide bitterns with a natural habitat. This has helped grow their population by more than 14 times within the past 2 decades.

While there are positive signs that can be seen all over the UK, more needs to be done in terms of preventing the further decline of UK wildlife population. Some initiatives are headed in the right direction, but everyone should make their own contribution to ensure that no more animal in Britain becomes extinct.

The UK’s Endangered Red Squirrel

Image Attribution: Photograph by Cameraman [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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Image Attribution: Photograph © Michael Gäbler / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
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Image Attribution: Photograph by Mick Lobb [CC-BY-SA/2.0] , via Geograph
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Image Attribution: Photograph by Cheryl Reynolds, Courtesy of Worth a Dam [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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