The first official Red List for British Mammals highlights species most at risk of national extinction in the near future, with researchers calling for urgent action to prevent their loss.
The first official Red List for British Mammals, produced by the Mammal Society for Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, shows that 11 of the 47 mammals native to Britain are classified as being at imminent risk of extinction. A further 5 species are classified as “near threatened” — meaning that there is a realistic possibility of them becoming threatened with extinction in the near future, and 4 are “data deficient” — meaning that their conservation status is unknown owing to a lack of information.
Crucially, the Red List for Great Britain has received authorisation on behalf of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at a regional level. This is significant as it means that the threatened British species have been identified using the same robust, internationally-agreed, system that is applied to classify threats to species such as elephants and tigers.
Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and Professor at the University of Sussex, led the report. She says: “The new Red List provides a very clear basis for prioritising funding and conservation efforts for the future. Twenty species — those classed as Threatened, Near Threatened, and Data Deficient — all need urgent attention. While we bemoan the demise of wildlife in other parts of the world, here in Britain we are managing to send even rodents towards extinction. Things have to change rapidly if we want our children and grandchildren to enjoy the wildlife we take for granted.”
Among those species listed as being at risk of extinction in Britain are the water vole, hedgehog, hazel dormouse, wildcat and the Grey long-eared bat. The European wolf is already extinct.
The reasons for the declines vary between species. For some, such as the wildcat, pine marten, and beaver (which is doing well in the scattered locations where it has been reintroduced), there has been extensive historical persecution. For bats and the hazel dormouse, habitat loss is the main threat; while the water vole, red squirrel and Orkney vole suffer from the combined effects of habitat degradation and the introduction of non-native species.
Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said “This is a wake-up call, but it is not too late to act. We are working with our partners to recover our threatened and widely loved mammals, including licensing the reintroduction of beavers into England, and supporting the recovery of dormice and the grey long-eared bat, but there is so much more to do.
Central to the recovery of these and other creatures will 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.”
Reintroductions can offer hope for some species. For example, local reintroductions of beavers have been successful, with the animals readily breeding in the wild; and translocations of pine martens from Scotland — where over 98% of the British population is found — have boosted populations in Wales. Nevertheless, the animals will only cease to be classed as threatened once their populations are much larger and better connected.
Unfortunately, for most other species, reintroductions are not a solution because the causes of their declines have not been rectified. Instead, fundamental change is needed in the way we manage our landscapes and plan future developments, so that we provide the space and habitat needed for our wildlife to thrive.
Members of the public can get involved with keeping an eye on Britain’s mammals using the Mammal Society’s free Mammal Mapper app.
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Images: Infographics © Mammal Society and Scottish wildcat © Mark Evans. Please credit Mammal Society and photographer when using supplied images. Images must only be used to accompany this news story.
- The table below shows native British species currently classified as being at risk of extinction in the near future. The degree of risk is greatest for Critically endangered species, and is progressively lower for Endangered, Vulnerable and Near Threatened species. The time-frames for these extinction risks vary by species and are difficult to predict precisely, but 10-25 years can be considered a plausible period for the purposes of planning aversive action. For more detail please see attached infographics.
Threat level in GB
Greater mouse-eared bat
Grey long-eared bat
Lesser white-toothed shrew**
* Included in Red List as formally classified as an island endemic species (probably introduced around 5,000 years ago)
** Included in formal Red List as potentially native species (though may have been introduced in Bronze Age)
- 51% (n=24) of all native species are threatened, near threatened or already extinct in at least one of the countries of Great Britain. Yet there are few funded monitoring schemes for species on the Red List.
- Assessments were not possible because of lack of information for the following species: wild boar, Alcathoe bat, whiskered bat, Brandt’s bat.
- The start of the assessment period for IUCN Red Lists is the year 1500. The European wolf is therefore recognised as a formerly native species that became extinct in the 17th The wildcat went extinct in England in the 19th century and in Wales at the start of the 20th century. Other native species such as lynx and bear went extinct before the start of the assessment period
- Greater mouse-eared bat — only one individual is currently known, but no systematic studies have been undertaken to ascertain whether there are other individuals in the area.
- The Red List was derived by assessing:
- The rate of population decline
- The geographic range
- Whether the species already possesses a small population size
- Whether the species is very small or lives in a restricted area
- Whether the results of a quantitative analysis indicate a high probability of extinction in the wild.
- The probability of immigration from populations in neighbouring countries.
- Population estimates, produced by the Mammal Society, and geographic range estimates, produced by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, were used to determine the IUCN threat level for each species.
- To access the full Red List (Mathews F & Harrower C, 2020, Regional Red List of British Mammals, visit: https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/red-list/.