Species that are part of our species list.
The brown bear was a common top predator alongside the wolf and lynx following the last ice age, after lions and hyenas had disappeared. It is calculated there were over 13,000 bears in Britain 7,000 years ago. Brown bears would have been feeding on a range of large mammals including deer and bison, while eating berries, roots and plants during leaner times. They are thought to have gone extinct in the UK just over 1, 000 years ago; gradual and persistent persecution, alongside the loss of its forest habitat, saw the brown bear disappear from our landscape forever.
After the last ice age lynx were widespread across the UK, feeding on roe deer as well as Arctic hares, and the now British-extinct collared and Norway lemmings and northern vole. Latest radiocarbon dating on lynx bones reveal they were still clinging on in northern Britain 1, 550 years ago. Even as far back as medieval Britain, huge deforestation led to declining deer populations and nowhere for hunting lynx hide to hide; combined with persecution the lynx slipped away from our countryside. As the lynx re-emerges across parts of Europe, our understanding of how the lynx disappeared in the UK may help determine whether one day it will return to our forests once again.
Persecuted to extinction by 1760 in Britain, the wolf was a successful predator after the last ice age. It feasted on a myriad of deer, aurochs, bison, saiga antelope and other mammals that thrived across the open grassland and woodlands thousands of years ago. In caves, remains of wolves suggest they were domesticated as early pets for protection and help during hunts. Despite our relationship with their ancestors, dogs, wolves were not tolerated and gradually killed off. Unlike the lynx, the wolf survived in Britain for much longer, less reliant on the disappearing forests for cover and thrived on red deer which had adapted to the open Scottish moors.
The elk (or moose) was a common sight across Britain before disappearing 8,000 years ago, Sharing forests and woodland clearings with roe deer, aurochs, wolves and wild cats. Humans hunted them for meat and skins; their huge antlers were used as tools such as pick axes. Despite their success after the last glaciation, changes in the climate, vegetation, hunting and fragmentation of their environment, saw them disappear from the British landscape. The similarly named Irish elk was in fact a type of extinct huge deer that lived up until the end of the last ice age, 11, 700 years ago.
Bison were once found in the British landscape, although archaeological evidence suggests they were more common on cold tundras of Britain before the last ice age, going back tens of thousands of years to a million years ago. They would have been mixing with woolly rhinos and woolly mammoths, and been eaten by hyenas, sabre-toothed cats and humans. Living in large herds, bison enjoyed the vast open landscapes known as mammoth steppe that replaced swathes of forests. As the climate warmed the bison disappeared; reindeer, wild horses, aurochs and deer dominated the grassy landscapes which slowly became woodland.
The Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) is a large herbivore, a mammal that was formerly native to these shores and once played an important part in our landscape from prehistoric times until it was hunted to extinction in the 16th century for its fur, meat and scent glands. The loss of this charismatic species also led to loss of the mosaic of lakes, meres, mires, tarns and boggy places that it so brilliantly built.
he pine marten has a long, lithe body with chocolate-brown fur and a pale-yellow patch around its throat. It has large, round ears and a long, bushy tail and is similar in size to a small domestic cat. It measures around 60–70cm and weighs approximately 1–2kg. Males are roughly a third bigger than females.
Not to be confused with: mink, weasel or stoat. All of these mustelids are roughly similar in appearance, so it can be easy to mix them up them. Weasels and stoats are much smaller than pine martens, and the American mink is slightly smaller with much darker fur. Pine martens are much more likely to be seen in trees than any of those species.
The Dalmatian pelican reflects a time when huge areas of the UK would have been covered in reedbeds, marshes and large shallow stretches of water, like the Danube Delta in Romania, where this species lives today. It was common 12,000 years ago and bones have been found in peat bogs in Norfolk, East Yorkshire and Somerset from the Bronze and Iron ages. Eventually, 2,000 years ago, the drainage of these wetlands, alongside hunting and disturbance, led to the extinction of the pelican. Dalmatian pelicans thrive in northern Europe’s cooler climate. White storks and common cranes followed the same fate in later centuries, although cranes have recently returned to the UK.
White Tailed Eagle
The white-tailed eagle is the largest UK bird of prey. It has brown body plumage with a conspicuously pale head and neck which can be almost white in older birds, and the tail feathers of adults are white. In flight it has massive long, broad wings with ‘fingered’ ends. Its head protrudes and it has a short, wedge-shaped tail.
This Schedule 1 species went extinct in the UK during the early 20th century, due to illegal killing, and the present population is descended from reintroduced birds.
The water vole lives along rivers, streams and ditches, around ponds and lakes, and in marshes, reedbeds and areas of wet moorland. Look out for the signs of water voles, such as burrows in the riverbank, often with a nibbled ‘lawn’ of grass around the entrance.
Water voles like to sit and eat in the same place, so piles of nibbled grass and stems may be found by the water’s edge, showing a distinctive 45 degree, angled-cut at the ends. ‘Latrines’ of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings may also be spotted. Water voles start to breed in spring, having three to four litters a year of up to five young.
he Bearded vulture is an unmistakable bird, with black ‘sideburns’, red rings around the eyes and a long wedge-shaped tail. Bearded vultures have black facial markings and black wings, the rest of the head, neck and body are a rich rusty orange. This is because Bearded vultures in the wild rub themselves with ferric oxides. Captive born birds are therefore not rusty but whit in colour. Juvenile bearded vultures are completely dark, and undergo multiple moultings.
The red squirrel is famed for its orange-red fur, but is actually quite variable in colour, ranging from vivid ginger to dark brown. In winter, the fur is often tinged with grey and large tufts develop above the ears. Red squirrels have a large bushy tail that is almost as long as their body.
Not to be confused with: the grey squirrel. Colour is the obvious difference here, but there can be some overlap between the species, with greyish-red squirrels and reddish-grey squirrels sometimes occurring. Grey squirrels never have tufted ears and are significantly larger, weighing around 540g, compared to just 300g for red squirrels. The tail of red squirrel is always exclusively one colour, while a grey squirrel tail often contains several colours.
The wildcat is a small feline with brown mottled fur and markings similar, but not identical, to that of a domestic tabby. It has a distinctive thick, blunt tail with a black tip and rings.
Not to be confused with: domestic cats. The wildcat is stockier and more muscular. It has longer legs and a larger, flatter head with ears that stick out to the side. Fur markings can also help identification: wildcats do not have white feet or stomachs, and do not have a line down their tails, unlike tabby cats.
With heart-shaped face, buff back and wings and pure white underparts, the barn owl is a distinctive and much-loved countryside bird. Widely distributed across the UK, and indeed the world, this bird has suffered declines through the 20th century and is thought to have been adversely affected by organochlorine pesticides such as DDT in the 1950s and ’60s.
Nocturnal birds like the barn owl are poorly monitored by the Breeding Bird Survey and, subject to this caveat, numbers may have increased between 1995-2008.
Barn owls are a Schedule 1 and 9 species. RSPB