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UK’s red squirrels, beavers and wildcats are under threat

A quarter of Britain’s native mammals – including red squirrels, beavers and wildcats – are at risk of extinction.

The first official Red List for British mammals, which uses international criteria to assess threats to wildlife, shows 11 of our 47 native mammals are at risk of dying out.

Historical persecution, loss of habitat, chemical use and the introduction of non-native species have led to their precarious state.

Those at the highest risk of going extinct include wildcats, with fewer than 20 in the wild in Scotland, and greater mouse-eared bats of which there is only one known individual.

Beavers, which have been reintroduced in recent years after being hunted to extinction in the 1600s, are also endangered as well as red squirrels, water voles and grey long-eared bats. Hedgehogs and hazel dormice are classed as vulnerable and a further five species including mountain hares and harvest mice are considered to be near threatened.

Britain has a limited number of native mammals due to past glaciations, which forced animals across the former land bridge to mainland Europe.

Most of the 47 native mammals are also found elsewhere in Europe due to the similar climate. 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.

For the first time the Red List has been accepted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 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 and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

The report was led by Fiona Mathews, chairman of the Mammal Society and professor at the University of Sussex, who said there is an urgent need for more sustained monitoring and intervention in the long term to ensure wildlife protection schemes get results.

She also called for urgent action to protect species that are near threatened to prevent their numbers from falling even further.

‘Once an animal becomes endangered, it’s really a scramble for time to put measures in place to rescue them,’ she said.

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said the ‘protection and restoration of large areas of suitable habitat’ is central to the recovery of mammals.

He added: ‘This is a wake-up call but it is not too late to act.’

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