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Tuesday
Dec122017

Species at Risk in the  UK

There are ubiquitous, internationally reaching campaigns to raise awareness for animals near extinction, and rightly so. We need to do whatever we can for all endangered species around the world. We often hear about the Snow Leopard or the White Rhino, but do you know which animals are endangered in the United Kingdom?  

Red Squirrels


The decline of the United Kingdom’s native red squirrel has been a widespread campaign for the past two decades. We have known for a long time that their numbers are declining drastically, but we want to know its current standing in our ecosystem after conservation efforts.  Red squirrels were once a common auburn sight. They are the UK’s only native squirrel species but it has been on the brink of extinction since the introduction of the North American grey squirrels. In the 1870s, the grey squirrel was transported to Europe as a novelty.

Flickr | Sergey YeliseevHowever, no one predicted how severely they would affect native red squirrels. Since their arrival, the North American squirrel has caused roughly a three million decrease in the red squirrel population! This has been due to squirrel parapox virus carried by the greys, who are immune to it. The red squirrel species were not so lucky and the virus wiped out a lot of the population. Another factor in this squirrel war for survival is food. Both types of squirrel eat green acorns, with the red rodents being unable to digest mature ones. Grey squirrels harvest all the acorns and ambush established food stores so that red squirrels lose out.

Flickr | Heather SmithersOn top of all of this, general activities also inevitably impact red squirrel populations. Things such as road traffic incidents, loss of woodland and predators all exacerbate the situation for the native squirrel. Due to breeding and monitoring programmes, the numbers of red squirrels have improved in places such as Scotland and the Lake District. There are however still only 15,000 in England!

Hedgehogs

Did you now that in 1950, there were 36 million hedgehogs in the UK? Can you guess how many we have today? Only approximately 1 million!  Climate change has a lot to answer for with this one, as does over development. Due to increasingly warmer winters as each year passes, hedgehogs do not hibernate for as long as they are supposed to. This means that since they awaken earlier, there is not enough food for them yet. Changes in the weather and length of seasons have affected animals worldwide, especially those that hibernate.

Flickr | Konstantinos MavroudisAnother issue that hedgehogs face is the loss of their habitat. Due to constant construction, particularly in UK cities, and the intensification of agricultural landscapes, there are fewer hedgerows which mean fewer nesting and habitation sites for hedgehogs. Due to fragmentation of habitat, hedgehogs sometimes have to walk up to a mile before finding any food or a mate.  In BBC Gardener’s survey conducted in 2016, out of the 2,600 people surveyed only 12% saw hedgehogs regularly. Over 50% did not see any hedgehogs at all which has been an increasing trend every year.  Hedgehogs are disappearing from our countryside as fast as tigers are disappearing worldwide!

Flickr | Justin SnowGardeners are encouraged to support the small mammals by creating hedgehog friendly spaces by leaving parts of the garden ‘wild’; leaving twigs and logs around will create the perfect shelter and since gardens cover ten million acres of the UK, it will make a huge difference to them. Other actions include checking before strimming, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of slug pellets.

Scottish Wildcat

Believe it or not these cats existed all across the UK but are now only left in Scotland. England and Wales had lost their entire wildcat population by 1880. These may look like Maine Coons, or a fluffier version of a Tabby cat, but they are in fact wild cats which domestic cats descend from. Interestingly, it is now domestic cats which act as the main threat to their wild relatives. Often, wild and domestic cats breed with each other which poses a genetic threat. The hybridization of wild and domestic cats means that the separate genetic identity of wildcats has eroded by mixing their gene pool with that of domestic cats.

Flickr | IIP Photo ArchiveAccording to The People’s Trust for Endangered Species the wildcat found its way to the Middle East from Europe. This gave rise to the steppe wildcat phenotype and then further migration occurred as those cats spread throughout Asia and Africa, again giving rise to new phenotypes. The North African wildcat was traded due to act as rodent control over 10,000 years ago; the first incident of domestication of the feline. Then, it interbred further creating what is closes to domestic cats today. Ironically, those cats were brought back to Europe due to their beauty only to breed with the native wildcats that created them, and eradicate their genepool. Organisations such as Save the Scottish Wildcat work “closely with the local community receiving considerable support from landowners, local businesses and the general public focusing on areas where pure wildcats appear to survive” and identifying pure wildcats.

Flickr | HehadenAs usual, manmade factors contribute to the falling number of any animal, and wildcats are no exception. Loss of habitat is a recurring factor in species becoming endangered in the UK, due to reduced woodland and development on a vast amount of land, wildcats have had less and less living space. Additionally, although wildcat hunting is illegal, it still occurs. As a result, although The Scottish wildcat is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, there are now only approximately 400 left in Scotland.

Flickr | Hehaden

By Hanna-Johara Dokal - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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