While tigers and elephants regally pose for endangered animal posters, many smaller creatures are fading away unnoticed. Now scientists are bringing attention to the dire outlook for less glamorous native U.K. mammals, claiming that one-quarter of them are at imminent risk of extinction.
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The scientists put 11 mammals on the U.K.’s first official Red List of endangered species. This list categorizes species according to their conservation status, using internationally agreed upon criteria.
“When we draw all the evidence together — about population size and how isolated and fragmented those populations are — we come up with this list of 11 of our 47 native species being threatened imminently,” Fiona Mathews of the Mammal Society told BBC News. “And there are more species that are categorized as ‘near threatened’.”
The study concluded that the Scottish wildcat and the greater mouse-eared bat are the U.K.’s most critically endangered mammals. Beaver, red squirrel, water vole and grey long-eared bats ranked as endangered. The vulnerable category included the hedgehog, hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, Serotine bat and Barbastelle bat.
“The three categories of threat — critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable — tell you about the probability of the animal becoming extinct within this imminent timeframe,” Mathews said. The U.K. Red List was produced for official nature agencies of England, Wales and Scotland and has been approved by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The biggest reason for plummeting populations is habitat loss. A 2019 report on U.K. wildlife called the country among the most nature-depleted in the world. Many animal species in the U.K. have decreased by an average of 60% since 1970.
Invasive species are another factor. Disease-ridden grey squirrels moved in and killed off endangered red squirrels, who lost more than 60% of their range just in the last 13 years. American mink that escaped from fur farms — and who can blame them — ate many native water voles.
Scientists lacked enough information to assess the status of some mammals, including the wild boar and whiskered bat. They assigned five animals into the “near threatened” category, meaning they’re slightly too populous to make the Red List: the mountain hare, harvest mouse, lesser white-toothed shrew, Leisler’s bat and Nathusius’ pipistrelle.
Image via Peter Trimming