A quarter of our native mammals are at risk of extinction, warns ‘wake-up call’ report
PUBLISHED: 12:57 30 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:14 30 July 2020
A quarter of Britain’s native mammal species are at risk of extinction according to a shocking conservation report – including some of Norfolk’s most treasured wildlife such as water voles, harvest mice and hedgehogs.
The first official Red List for British Mammals says 11 of the country’s 47 native mammals are at risk of being lost due to reasons ranging from historical persecution to the use of chemicals, development, a loss of habitat and the introduction of non-native species.
Those classed as “endangered” include water voles, which have a population stronghold in East Anglia’s wetlands, and red squirrels, which once thrived in Thetford Forest but have now all but died out in the area – although the region is contributing to the re-introduction of the species in the wild through the East Anglia Red Squirrel Breeding Programme. Also “endangered” are beavers, which were hunted to extinction by the 1600s but have been recently reintroduced to areas including a 60-acre enclosure at the Wild Ken Hill estate in west Norfolk.
Other Norfolk residents including hedgehogs, Serotine bats and Barbastelle bats are among those classed as “vulnerable” to extinction, and a further five species, including harvest mice, Nathusius’ pipistrelle and Leisler’s bats – also found in Norfolk – are considered to be “near threatened”, as they could become at risk in the near future.
The Red List report was produced by the Mammal Society for conservation agencies including Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
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Mammal Society chairman Prof Fiona Mathews, who led the report, said it demonstrates a need for funding and action to be prioritised to help threatened mammals in areas ranging from the planning system to habitat creation.
“It’s about right across the whole of the landscape, whether it’s urban areas, peri-urban areas or rural areas, we are making space so other animals can get the resources they need, so they have food and have shelter, because that’s the only realistic way forward,” she said.
Prof Mathews said urgent action was needed for near-threatened species such as harvest mice, which are vanishing because of the loss of long grassland on farms, the edges of fields and roadside verges, and she also highlighted particular concern for water voles, which she said have slipped off the radar despite continuing declines in numbers.
“Once an animal becomes endangered or critically endangered, it’s really a scramble for time to put measures in place to rescue them, so we need to be taking a hard look at the species on the next level down so that it doesn’t become a crisis,” she warned.
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Kevin Hart, director of nature conservation at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: “There is a grimly long list of studies and reports that clearly indicate wildlife in the UK is experiencing an appalling level of loss and decline as habitats are degraded and destroyed.
“Our nature reserves provide refuge for endangered and vulnerable mammals on the list such as water vole, hedgehog and Barbastelle bats but our challenge is to create more space, more habitat and to link it together so the populations of these species and others can increase and once again establish themselves over larger areas of Norfolk.”
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: “This is a wake-up call, but it is not too late to act.”
He said central to the recovery of mammals would be the “protection and restoration of large areas of suitable habitat, including through the creation of a vibrant and wildlife-rich nature recovery network, enabling populations of rare animals to increase and be reconnected with one another”.
For the first time the Red List has been formally accepted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on a regional basis, which means it meets the internationally-agreed criteria for assessing threats to wildlife.
Two British species are classed as “critically endangered” – wildcats, with fewer than 20 in the wild in Scotland, and greater mouse-eared bats, with just one known individual in Sussex.
The European wolf, which vanished from Britain in the 17th century, is classed as “extinct” in the assessment, which looks back as far as the year 1500, but lynx and bear are not included as they went extinct here before that time.
THE RED LIST – MAMMALS AT RISK OF EXTINCTION IN BRITAIN:
• Critically endangered: wildcat, greater mouse-eared bat.
• Endangered: beaver, red squirrel, water vole, grey long-eared bat.
• Vulnerable: hedgehog, hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, Serotine bat, Barbastelle bat.
• Near threatened: mountain hare, harvest mouse, lesser white-toothed shrew, Leisler’s bat, Nathusius’ pipistrelle.
• Extinct: European wolf.
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