20 extinct, rare and endangered Norfolk animals

House Martin, Delichon urbica, perched on ground, collecting mud, puddle, farmyard, Norfolk, May

House Martin numbers are on the decline in Norfolk with many of them getting trapped in mist nets during migration - Credit: Dawn Monrose

As BBC Springwatch 2021 puts the national spotlight on Norfolk's nature, Nick Richards spoke to Robert Morgan of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust about the county's struggling species.

Norfolk's wonderfully varied nature ebbs and flows like the tides that pound our coastline causing some species to thrive while others struggle.

Scientist and nature recorders can provide hard data on numbers of most species in Norfolk, but as for explaining why some have become endangered and even died out, it's usually down to theories rather than cold hard fact.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Robert Morgan spends three days a week working with and monitoring local wildlife at Hickling Broad.

He is an authority on the types of creatures you may have seen years ago but don't see so much anymore and those which are starting to breed again.


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He identifies four categories - those that are long gone, those which we've lost in recent memory, those which are struggling and those which are on the way back.

Gone

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  • Lynx (14th century ) 
  • Pine marten (17th century) 
  • Beaver/Coypu (20th century)
  • Great bustard (16th/17th century)
  • Bison ( lost to the mist of time)  

Robert said: "These are all animals that used to exist in Norfolk. Of them all, the lynx is the most likely one which we'd see reintroduced.

LynxPhotograph: Erwin Van Maanen

The lynx, once found in Norfolk - Credit: Erwin Van Maanen

"The argument for bringing them back is that they predate muntjac and Chinese water deer and also, as has been discovered in places like Yellowstone Park in the USA, that where lynx roam and where they urinate and defecate, it helps to  keeps these types of deer away from certain areas allowing plants that would normally be stripped back to thrive.

"Coypu were introduced for the fur trade but many were trapped because they burrowed into river banks and damaged flood defences and ruined farmers crops, costing them money. The coypu trappers work dried up in the mid-1980s, I can recall talking to one of them in 1986 and he said he hadn't caught any for weeks."

Gone but not forgotten

  • Red-backed shrike (was still fairly common in the 1960s)
  • Wryneck ( bred in Norfolk in the 1960s) 
  • Norfolk damselfly (gone by 1950s)
  • Large copper butterfly (gone by 1950s)
  • Red squirrel (1980s) 

Robert said: "These species would have all been seen in living memory. My dad, for example, recalls seeing red-backed shrike in Epping Forest, maybe 50 pairs of them, but now they are not so common. They fell victim to egg collectors, but the last breeding pair in Norfolk would have been in The Brecks in the late 1980s."

A red-backed shrike

A red-backed shrike - Credit: Stefan Johansson

"The large copper butterfly was a wonderful vibrant orange/red colour and that died out for unknown reasons, possible due to pesticide use.

"They feed on water dock which we have here in Norfolk but they seemed to stay in The Netherlands and central Europe rather than here in the UK.

"They would have been desired by butterfly collectors in Victorian times and although they've been spotted on occasion in reserves in Cambridgeshire, they're generally thought to have vanished from Norfolk around the end of the Second World War.

A red squirel

A red squirel - Credit: Mark Hamblin

"The red squirrel is another animal that you may remember from around 30 years ago - I can remember seeing them on a visit to Center Parcs at Elveden when it first opened. Squirrelpox was the big reason for their downfall.

A pine marten

A pine marten - Credit: Mark Hamblin

"An argument for bringing back an animal like the pine marten is that they favour grey squirrels as prey because they are larger and slower which would allow quicker and smaller red squirrels to thrive once again along with birds like bullfinches and hawfinches which can have their eggs and young taken by grey squirrels."

Endangered

  • Turtle dove 
  • Garden tiger moth 
  • House martin 
  • Water vole 
  • Curlew

"Although we can see these in Norfolk, they are under threat. Numbers of curlew have dropped fast but the big worry is a bird like the house martin, which was fairly common on these shores.

A curlew

A curlew - Credit: John Bridges

"Millions are being taken during migration, especially when they are caught in mist nets in northern Africa and the Mediterranean. They have no regulations over there and lots are caught by people looking to catch birds like quail and turtle doves.

"As they approach the coast these birds will come down to a lower level and that's where they will end up hitting the nets. Songbirds are considered a delicacy in some countries.

"As well as not migrating here, bird numbers in general are dropping and some once common birds such as sparrows are far less common than they were 30 years ago. Some species are thriving - such as wood pigeons which are enjoying a big rise." 

Coming back

  • Otter
  • Spoonbill
  • Crane 
  • Pool frog 
  • Fen mason wasp

"The spoonbill is one of the success stories as it hadn't bred in the UK for years - they were very easy to catch and disappeared. But there is a colony at Holkham which has spread to Cley and we've seen four or five birds at Hickling.

A spoonbill at Cley Marshes

A spoonbill at Cley Marshes - Credit: David Tipling

"One of them which has been tagged has known to travel from Holkham to Hickling to feed, so these birds are traveling across Norfolk to fill up on fish which is great, and their numbers are increasing.

"Otters had just about disappeared but are coming back, their numbers were hit by the insecticide DDT which damaged their livers, but they are coming back.

The Fen Mason wasp

The fen mason wasp - Credit: Tim Strudwick

"The fen mason wasp which was thought to be extinct has returned to Hickling where you can see odd colonies close to paths where they build little nests like chimneys. 

"Considering they are wasps they are very cute looking little creatures."

BBC Springwatch will broadcast from nature reserves around the UK including Wild Ken Hill in Norfolk until June 5.

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