Researchers issue wildlife extinction warning in Britain

The red-necked phalarope

The red-necked phalarope

Red squirrels, hedgehogs and Scottish wildcats are among the British animals most under threat of extinction, according to a review of native wildlife.

The examination of UK species suggests that birds including the cuckoo and turtle dove, as well as creatures such as the natterjack toad and brown hare, are also among those most at risk of disappearing in the next 40 years.

Researchers have drawn up a list of the top 10 species most in danger of extinction in the UK in a report for TV channel Eden.

Toni Bunnell, a zoologist who led the research which looked rates of decline, recent population levels and reasons for creatures being under threat, said some of the wildlife on the list may be a surprise to members of the public.

But they had to consider, she said, when was the last time they saw a hedgehog or heard a cuckoo.

While some of the species were still found in the UK in large numbers, such as hedgehogs, which have an estimated population of one million, high rates of decline meant they were at serious risk.

The species topping the list of endangered species was the red-necked phalarope, a bird which has just 36 breeding pairs in the far north of Scotland and which has seen numbers reduced by a quarter in a decade.

The black-tailed godwit has just 50 breeding pairs and has seen numbers decline by a third in 15 years.

Dr Bunnell said most of the species on the list were at risk from habitat loss while some were also affected by other factors, including the red squirrel, which is threatened by the spread of their grey cousin, which competes with the reds and spreads disease to them.

Her report warns that red squirrels may have vanished from the UK 20 years from now.

Scottish wildcats were threatened as a result of interbreeding with domestic cats while the capercaillie and the natterjack toad are being affected by climate change.

Dr Bunnell said: “We should be alerted to the fact that wildlife in Britain is in serious trouble.”

While conservation action was being taken for many of the species most at risk, some were threatened by intensive agriculture, which would continue to pose a problem.

Hedgehogs were mostly killed by mowing and strimming, she said.

“More can be done in terms of habitat preservation and providing suitable habitat, finding out what they need and trying to provide enough habitat for the species to survive,” Dr Bunnell added.

She said that it was not enough to provide “little oases” of habitat, species also needed wildlife corridors to connect areas together.

The top 10 list

1. Red-necked phalarope
2. Black-tailed godwit
3. Scottish wildcat
4. Capercaillie
5. Cuckoo
6. Red squirrel
7. Turtle dove
8. Natterjack toad
9. Brown hare
10. Hedgehog


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