One in five British mammal species could be extinct within a decade

Henry Bodkin
A wildcat peers above the Scottish heather - the report found the species is now endangered - Barcroft Media

Bats, wildcats and red squirrels are among the nearly one in five British mammal species at risk of extinction within the next decade, a major survey has found.

Beavers, water voles and hazel dormice also appear on a “Red” list of those expected to die out unless changes to building allocation and pesticide use are made.

The Natural England-commissioned study by the Mammal Society, the first thorough review of mammals in Britain for 20 years, found populations of creatures such as hedgehogs have declined by up to 66 per cent since the last such survey was carried out.

The report revealed there is currently just one known greater mouse-eared bat in England, comparing it to “Lonesome George”, the giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands who was the last of his species.

The study’s authors last night described the ecological situation as being on a “precipice” and warned that for many species the real situation may be worse than suggested by the figures because of significant data gaps.

Professor Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal society, said: “This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and disappear from our shores forever.”

The report found that loss of habitat due to development, as well as road deaths, the use of pesticides and climate change were all putting pressure on UK species.

We need to stop thinking of wildlife as something that happens somewhere else

Professor Fiona Mathews, The Mammal Society

It examined 58 terrestrial mammals described as native, naturalised, introduced or reintroduced.

There was better news for some species, such as otters, whose range has expanded since the banning of pesticides which poisoned their river homes, and pine martens, polecats and badgers are recovering from former persecution.

Deer, which have no natural predators in the UK, have increased in number, and beavers and wild boar have returned to British shores since the last time such a study was completed.

The study, led by the Mammal Society and commissioned by government agency Natural England, examined 1.5 million records of mammals across Britain including data from "citizen science" reports and local wildlife groups.

It maps where mammals are found and estimates their population, and how that has changed since previous studies in the 1990s, and assesses their risk of extinction against internationally agreed criteria.

On the 'Red' list: the original British squirrel could be gone within 10 years Credit: Charlotte Graham

While it found that almost one in five species - 12 out of 58 - is threatened with extinction across Britain,

"We need to stop thinking of wildlife as something that happens somewhere else, and we just put a ring around it, and that's all your animals sorted,” added Professor Mathews, an evolution and behaviour expert at the University of Sussex.

"The idea of tiny nature reserves, national parks and so on is a bit of a worry because most of the British landscape isn't like that.

"Most wild animals move over a wide distance, and we need to make sure we have connective landscapes, we have places throughout Britain where animals have a home."