The UK, despite its relatively small land area, is home to a remarkable diversity of wildlife. However, many of its native species are now at risk of disappearing forever due to habitat destruction, climate change, and various human-induced threats.
Ecology & arboriculture consultancy Arbtech delved into the plight of endangered species in the UK, shedding light on their unique characteristics, the challenges they face, and the collective efforts underway to preserve these iconic and irreplaceable members of the British ecosystem.
Hedgehogs are charming, yet they are facing a severe decline in numbers due to habitat loss, increased urbanisation, and vehicle collisions. While in the 1950s there were 36 million hedgehogs, in 2013 they went down to one million, resulting in a 97 per cent decrease in population.
We can take several steps to preserve these beloved creatures, and creating hedgehog-friendly gardens is a key one. This includes providing access to fresh water sources and food, like cat or dog food, mealworms, or diced fruits. Moreover, ensuring safe passage for hedgehogs within neighbourhoods is vital. Installing tunnels or small openings in fences can help hedgehogs move around without getting stuck or injured.
- Red Squirrel
Red squirrels face a daunting challenge from the invasive grey squirrel species, leading to their decline, which saw numbers fall to only 140,000 individuals in 2023.
Protecting the habitat of red squirrels, especially coniferous woodlands, is essential to preserve the species. These habitats offer the ideal conditions for red squirrels to thrive. Conservation efforts should include preserving these woodland environments and monitoring the red squirrel populations to ensure their survival.
Beavers are vital to maintaining healthy wetland ecosystems, yet they are threatened by habitat loss and human persecution. Preserving these ecological engineers involves various strategies. Rewilding projects, which reintroduce beavers into suitable habitats, can help rebuild their populations. Tree guards and barriers can protect valuable crops while allowing beavers to coexist with human activities in areas where beavers interact with farmland. Public education is also crucial, as it fosters appreciation for these ecosystem engineers and promotes coexistence with these creatures, encouraging long-term preservation.
Bats are essential for ecosystem health but face habitat loss and disturbances. Preserving them requires a multi-faceted approach. Protecting bat roosts, whether in caves, buildings, or trees, is crucial. Minimising light pollution in urban areas helps bats navigate and hunt at night, ensuring their survival. In addition, installing bat boxes in cities and residential areas can provide suitable roosting sites, encouraging bats to remain in proximity to human populations.
- Water Vole
Water voles, often described as “Ratty” in Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” have faced habitat destruction and predation, particularly by invasive species such as mink, and their population has declined 94 per cent since the 1990s.
Preservation efforts must involve the creation of buffer zones along watercourses, preserving and restoring their natural habitats.
- Scottish Wildcat
The Scottish wildcat, a symbol of untamed wilderness, faces a dire situation due to crossbreeding with domestic cats and habitat loss to the point where, in 2023, only 115 to 315 individuals are known.
Saving the Scottish wildcat would involve a combination of strategies. Establishing protected reserves where these elusive creatures can roam without interbreeding is crucial. Simultaneously, efforts to promote responsible pet ownership are essential, including neutering and microchipping domestic cats to prevent hybridisation.
- Hazel Dormouse
Hazel dormice, with their endearing appearance, have seen their populations decline 75 per cent over the last 25 years due to habitat loss and the impacts of climate change. Preserving these creatures requires a multi-pronged approach. Protecting woodlands and hedgerows, their primary habitats, is vital. Initiatives to maintain hedgerows, and reestablishing and connecting woodlands, provide dormice with suitable areas to forage and nest. Placing nesting boxes can also help bolster populations, ensuring that these delightful creatures continue to thrive in their natural environments.
- Turtle Dove
The turtle dove, known for its soft cooing, has experienced habitat loss and hunting, which threatens its survival, and since the 1970s, there has been a 97 per cent decrease in its population.
Preservation efforts must focus on protecting their breeding grounds. This includes conserving meadows, scrublands, and woodlands and ensuring a rich source of seeds, a primary food source for these doves. Moreover, promoting sustainable farming practices can create more dove-friendly landscapes. These collective measures can ensure the survival of this beloved bird in the wild.
- Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
The lesser spotted woodpecker, a master of stealth in wooded habitats, has seen a 90 per cent decline since the 1980s due to deforestation and habitat destruction; today, 1,200 specimens of this species are believed to be left.
To preserve these woodpeckers, we must take specific actions. Preserving old-growth forests, which provide the ideal habitat, is crucial. Dead trees left in place for natural decay become a food source and nesting sites for woodpeckers. These practices, combined with enhancing the availability of suitable food sources, can encourage the resurgence of the lesser spotted woodpecker.
- Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Like many other species, Small tortoiseshell butterflies are threatened by habitat destruction and climate change. The decrease in population has been drastic, as there has been a 77per cent decrease in the ten years between 2003 and 2013.
To preserve these delicate insects, planting nectar-rich flowers in gardens and public spaces can provide essential food sources. Protecting their habitats, including meadows and open woodlands, is crucial. Reducing the use of pesticides and promoting responsible gardening practices can also help maintain the butterfly’s population.