A shocking new assessment has warned that a quarter of Britain’s native mammals species are at risk of extinction.
The first official Red List for British Mammals, which meets international criteria used to assess threats to wildlife such as elephants and tigers, shows that 11 of the UK’s 47 native mammals face an existential threat.
The mammal species at risk range from near threatened to critically endangered – and feature garden and woodland favourites like hedgehogs and red squirrels.
What is the Red List?
The Red List categorises species based on how threatened they are, and is compiled following a comprehensive review of all available evidence relating to mammal populations.
For the first time the Red List has been formally accepted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on a regional basis, which means it meets the internationally-agreed criteria for assessing threats to wildlife.
It has been produced by the Mammal Society for government conservation agencies Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
The wildcat and greater mouse-eared bat are considered to be critically endangered, according to the list.
There are fewer than 20 wildcats in the wild in Scotland, while just one there is just one known greater mouse-eared bat in Britain.
Beavers, which have been reintroduced in recent years after being hunted to extinction by the 1600s, are endangered in Britain.
They are doing well in the "isolated places" where they have been reintroduced in the wild, but they are few and far between and could face persecution that could remove the species altogether again.
Others to make the second most-threatened category in the Red List are red squirrels, water voles and grey long-eared bats.
Hedgehogs are often a welcome site in gardens across Britain, so it will come as a shock to discover that they are included on the vulnerable species category.
The hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, Serotine bat and Barbastelle bat are also classed as vulnerable to extinction.
A further five species are included in the mammals that are considered to be “near threatened”, according to the list.
Mountain hares, the harvest mouse, lesser white-toothed shrew, Leisler's bat and Nathusius' pipistrelle are all at the lowest category of risk – but their numbers are still a major cause of concern as they could become at risk in the near future.
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.
What is causing the decline?
Reasons for the mammals’ potential extinction range from historical persecution to the use of chemicals, development, a loss of habitat and the introduction of non-native species.
Mammal Society chairwoman and professor at the University of Sussex Fiona Mathews, who led the report, said it shows a need for a change of approach, with funding and action prioritised on generating results for mammals.
In areas ranging from the planning system to funding for habitat creation, there is a need for more sustained monitoring and intervention over the long term to make sure schemes deliver, she said.
People such as landowners and developers who protect wildlife should be rewarded, she urged, adding that it is not enough just to create small protected areas for mammals.
How have wildlife groups reacted?
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".
David Wembridge, mammal surveys coordinator from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), said: “It is a stark reminder that the extinction crisis is happening not just in rainforests and tropical oceans, but in the countryside and waters of these shores…
“The Red List classification will hopefully attract funding for PTES and organisations like it, and highlights the urgency that’s needed in tackling the crisis.”
Fiona Matthews, chair of the Mammal Society, told Yahoo News UK: “We simply cannot carry on with 'business as usual' and expect that creatures like the hedgehog, dormouse, water-vole or grey long-eared bat will still be here for our children and grandchildren.
By reporting the mammals you see in your gardens we will get a greater understanding of which species use urban and suburban habitats. Let us know which mammals you see when you submit your bird records, even if it is none! #zerosmatter #GardenBirdWatch #MammalsAtRisk https://t.co/AFI0OK1bon— BTO Garden BirdWatch (@BTO_GBW) July 30, 2020
“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how important the natural world is to us: we need to put making space for nature at the heart of our recovery.”
She added that “everyone can help” by doing things like putting aside areas for wildlife in their gardens, and asking schools, golf clubs and those who run community sports pitches to do the same.
The Bat Conservation Trust commented on how six of the 11 species at risk were bats, saying that “there is an urgent need for further research along with well implemented legal protection, targeted land management and education programmes” to help halt the decline.
CEO Kit Stoner added: “We need to secure the resources and support to continue to learn more about bats so that we can be effective in their conservation.”