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Forests are essential for our survival. They supply much of what sustains us, from the air we breathe to the food we eat. Furthermore, they provide homes to different plant and animal species. They also play an integral role in mitigating the effects of climate change.
As of 2017, the UK’s woodland area is 3.17 million hectares. These vast forests serve as habitats for numerous animals, from the very common red deer to the highly elusive Scottish wildcat.
What animals live in the forest in the UK? Listed below are some of the interesting animals you would find in the woodland.
Centuries ago, the pine marten used to be the second-most common carnivore in Britain. However, since several woodlands were cleared in the early 1900s, the population of pine martens dropped significantly. Most of the pine martens left are in the Scottish Highlands.
In recent years, their numbers have been increasing in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. The numbers in England have not recovered though, their presence has recently been recorded in the Lake District, the North York Moors, Northumberland, Shropshire and the New Forest.
Pine martens can grow up to 70 centimetres long, with their bushy tail measuring up to 25 centimetres. They have a chestnut brown colour with a distinct pale-yellow bib on their chin and neck. Their average life span is 10 years.
They’re currently protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 which has helped their population recover. One important finding very recently is that pine martens can significantly help the red squirrels population grow back. Based on studies, in places where the number of pine martens increased, a decrease in the number of grey squirrels was recorded. Scientists found out that grey squirrel are an easy prey for pine martens. This can be a game changer in terms of saving the native red squirrel.
Red squirrels can live in different types of forests such as deciduous and coniferous woodlands. These adorable creatures are native to the UK, but their numbers dropped significantly after the grey squirrels were introduced. One of the reasons for the decline in their population is that the greys outcompete them for food. Another is that the non-natives carry a virus which is fatal to the reds.
Currently, there are around 140,000 red squirrels in the UK as compared to 2.5 million for grey squirrels. Scientists are doing their best to help the population of the native squirrels to improve. While it’s a difficult task, there are some signs of progress in certain parts of the UK.
While the red squirrels are quite elusive, you may still chance upon some of them when you trek through woodlands like Scotland’s Knapdale Forest. They are most commonly seen on tree trunks where they build dreys, what squirrel’s nests are called.
If you want to see red squirrels, the best time to look for them is in autumn when trees have less leaves. Some of the signs to keep an eye on are scratch marks on trunks and pine cones which have been chewed.
Brown Long-Eared Bat
Brown long-eared bats are quite common in the UK forests. In the late 1990s, research showed that their entire population in the country is around 250,000.
They can grow to about 4.5 centimetres long. As their name suggests, these slow-flying bats have noticeably long ears. In fact, with an average length of 3.9 centimetres, these ears are almost as big as their body. Their dorsal fur is coloured brown, while the ventral side has a lighter hue.
In terms of their diet, brown long-eared bats are known to feast on moths and other insects. Their roosts or natural habitats are in old buildings, caves or holes in trees.
Often spotted in Charlecote Park, the brown long-eared bats are not endangered but they are threatened. Their population has declined due to the changes in agricultural practices and conversion of barns which have negatively affected their roosting and feeding habitats. Another factor is the use of pesticides on the roofs of agricultural structures which are one of the preferred roosts of bats.
Yes, your read that right – wild boars are found in the UK forests! So, do not be surprised if you come across them in the woodlands.
About three or four centuries ago, they became extinct in the UK due to excessive hunting. In the past centuries, there were multiple attempts to reintroduce them into country. All of these failed until the 1980s when wild boar farming became more popular. Eventually, some of these wild boars escaped into the wild and settled in the forest. In addition, in the early 2000s, there were around 60 wild boars from farms which were illegally released in Staunton. By 2009 and 2010, reports indicated that the wild boar population has consistently grown since these incidents.
Wild boars have a large head and a long snout. Adult boars are brownish in colour, while piglets have a lighter colour with some stripes for camouflage. These animals can grow up to more than a metre in height and can weigh us much as 250 kilograms. When a male boar reaches the age of two, they begin to grow tusks. Since they have a weak sense of sight, they rely on their sense of hearing and sense of smell.
The current resurgence of wild boar population in the UK has been met with mixed reactions. Some sectors are happy, since the previously extinct species has returned in the UK. There are also those who are worried because they believe that these mammals are dangerous. According to some experts, wild boars only become aggressive or attack when they feel threatened.
When you come across sounders or a group of wild boars, do your best to keep your distance. An adult boar or sow would usually put itself in between the group of wild boar and the possible threat. The rest of the group would then proceed to deeper vegetation to get out of sight. Afterwards, the adult boar or sow will turn back and join the rest of the group. If they feel you’re getting closer, the adult boar or sow may mock charge you to scare you away. If they feel extremely threatened, they may charge you directly.
Pine Marten photo by Flickpicpete (Thanks for 2.5 million+ views)
Red squirrel photo by hedera.baltica
Brown long-eared bat up close photo by Alastair Rae