‘Nature’s engineers’ who create wetlands with their dams are recognised as native UK wildlife.. back from 400 year extinction!
Beavers are to be given legal protection in England, meaning it will be illegal to kill or harm them as they are formally recognised as native wildlife.
There are now approaching 1,000 beavers living wild in the rivers and streams of Britain.
This is a step forward for the charismatic rodents, which were hunted to extinction in the country 400 years ago but have reappeared owing to illegal releases around the country.
The government has also been licensing beaver releases inside enclosures, and some environmentalists hope that later this year in the upcoming beaver strategy there will be permissions for the rodents to be released to roam wild.
It is thought there are hundreds of beavers already living wild along England’s waterways, with some experts believing there could be as many as 800.
New legislation, due to come into force on 1 October, will make it an offence to deliberately capture, kill, disturb, or injure beavers, or damage their breeding sites or resting places – without holding the appropriate licence.
The animals are known as “nature’s engineers” as they create wetlands – an important habitat for many plants and animals – when they build dams. In doing so, they also prevent flooding and drought-related problems such as wildfires by keeping water in the land.
Derek Gow, a farmer turned rewilder who is known as one of the country’s leading beaver experts, said: “The news today that beavers will be afforded legal protection in England is both appropriate and welcome.
“We have been very slow to recognise the critical role that this species delivers in the creation of complex wetland landscapes, which can afford resilience against the twin extremes of flood and drought. All they need from us to guarantee this goal is understanding, tolerance and space.”
There was confusion this week as the plans were due to be announced earlier, but appeared to have been pulled at the last minute.
Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said at the time: “Clarity around legal protections for beavers are crucial if populations are to recover and thrive long term – it is extremely disappointing that this legislation has been brought to a juddering halt, with no explanation why.
“We need to see the widespread return of wild beavers to create vital wetland habitats and restore rivers, many of which have been damaged by centuries of dredging and being cut off from floodplains. As England grapples with a nature and climate emergency, we need our beavers back.”
However, sources at Defra blamed the rush to get legislation out before recess for the hold-up, and said they always planned to enshrine these protections in law anyway, as it is a legal requirement under the Berne convention.
How can we live peacefully with beavers?
Naturally, there are some concerns from people such as farmers and those invested in fisheries about beavers returning to the UK. However, research shows that humans can live harmoniously with beavers if we manage the situation well.
The Cornwall Beaver Project, organised by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, explores how beavers affect water and wildlife, and how conflicts with humans may be resolved.
Researchers visited Bavaria in southeast Germany, where beavers had returned for 50 years. There, the local people were educated on different ways they could solve typical problems.
For example, undesirable tree felling was solved simply by sandpainting the trunks or wrapping a wire mesh around it. Unwanted floods were assuaged by adding a flow device which allowed some water to pass through. These simple solutions allowed humans and beavers to share the same space amicably.
The Bavarian district of Winzer had faced many floods, leading to the government planning a dam costing more than a million euros. But around the same time, a group of beavers had moved in upstream and started building their own dam. This slowed down the flow of water, reducing the impact of floods and saving the town more than 650,000 euros.
This is a perfect example of how beavers can help mitigate climate change disasters in a natural and economical way.
Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland and the Wales Wild Land Foundation) in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it (18,19).
Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise… continues
Which locally extinct animals could and should be reintroduced to Britain? Terry Stewart
BSc and PhD Degrees in Biology, University of Cambridge (Graduated 1989)Author has 919 answers and 810.6K answer views2y
Deer are a bit of a problem because they have no predators so their populations are out of control. In large forests lynx would keep their numbers down, and in addition alter the deer’s behaviour, so they move around more so don’t have such a large impact.
Unfortunately a planned introduction to Thetford forest was blocked by local farmers due to entirely unwarranted fears about the effects of lynx on other wild life. 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.
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.
European grey wolf (Canis lupus canids) playing in the snow. Photograph: Bernhardt Reiner/Alamy
There’s some controversy about when the wolf became extinct in Britain, but the last certain record is an animal killed in Sutherland in 1621.
Wolves are the most controversial species proposed for reintroduction here, and nothing is likely to happen for some decades.
Their reputation for ferocity is undeserved: they go to great lengths to avoid people. But they do take livestock, which would need to be protected by dogs or other measures.
Wolves are critical to the restoration of ecosystems, especially of places – like the Scottish Highlands – that are overgrazed by deer.
In Spain the wolf is protected in some areas and in expansion, with large pro and contra demonstrations. Livestock managers receive compensation for animals taken by wolves, a measure often abused due to attacks by dogs.
Persecuted to extinction by 1760 in Britain, the wolf was a successful predator after the last ice age. It ate 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.
Natural predators of the invasive grey squirrel they would keep the numbers of this non native species down and allow reintroduction of the native red squirrels. Following the spectacular preliminary findings from Ireland, where resurgent pine martens appear to have rolled back the grey squirrel population, allowing red squirrels to recolonise much of their old territory, there has been a surge of interest in restoring the species in Britain.
Although not technically extinct in Britain, they as good as are extinct in England, mainly due to persecution by game keepers.see.. https://www.vwt.org.uk/projects-all/pine-marten-recovery-project/
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;
Highly beneficial in creating biodiversity and altering water flows along rivers. Some have actually been reintroduced, although again there was a lot of opposition from farmers, though in this case this was ignored, and none of the negative impacts they predicted actually happened. SEE ABOVE REPORT::
Like pine martens, persecuted by gamekeepers, this time to extinction. Important predators of things like grey squirrelsIt was driven to extinction in the 19th century, mostly by gamekeepers, but it now clings on in small numbers, as a result of deliberate releases and escapes from falconers. It is still being illegally killed by gamekeepers. Like the pine marten, the goshawk hunts grey squirrels.
Extinct since the 13th century, they seem to have reintroduced themselves due to escapees from wild boar farms.It has become an invasive species in part of its introduced range, its main predator being the wolf
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 survive in Europe and have been reintroduced in the Pyrenee mountains. Livestock managers leave animals unguarded in the mountains in summer and bears do kill some, leading to pro and anti demonstrations and some killings of bears.
Extinct British wildlife
A changing landscape
From the last ice age onwards, Britain has been an ever-changing landscape. Forests came and went, vast grasslands contracted in size or opened up, huge wetlands covered river valleys and estuaries.
During this time a huge variety of different animals suited to a cooler climate disappeared while others appeared before Britain’s land-bridge with mainland Europe was covered by rising seas around 8,500 years ago.
Many animals that remained suffered from hunting and human-related changes as their habitats were destroyed. Today, Wildlife Trusts across the UK are helping to bring back some of those animals, like beavers and ospreys.
Here are some of the UK’s extinct animals and the stories behind their loss. Some became extinct thousands of years ago while others disappeared much more recently.
After the last ice age aurochs, an ancient wild cow with huge curved horns, lived in low densities across Britain. They were the ancestors of modern cattle.
As horses and reindeer disappeared from the landscape and moved into cooler environments, aurochs mixed with red deer, saiga antelopes, roe deer, wild boar and elk.
They grazed on low-lying, open flat grassland, floodplains, birch woodland and even saltmarsh. Although larger than modern-day cows, they were hunted and eaten by bears, wolves and people. They died out just over 3, 500 years ago as hunting, farming and an increasing human population pushed them out.
The apple bumblebee loved sand dunes in the UK and was found at a handful of sites in Kent during 1857 and 1864; it has been extinct ever since.
Where they are found in greater abundance in mainland Europe they use a wider range of habitats such as marshes and woodland edge. And despite their rarity here, abroad they feed on a range of flowers with queen bees particularly partial to red clover.
Found in Kent over 150 years ago, it is quite likely the apple bumblebee was an occasional visitor to Britain, on the edge of its range.
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.
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.
The great auk was almost twice the size of the similar-looking razorbill, which can still be found at coastal breeding sites around the UK. Flightless, the great auk was like the penguin of the Northern Hemisphere, though from a completely different family.
It lived across the North Atlantic and, like guillemots, preferred to live in large colonies at just a few sites including St Kilda, in the Outer Hebrides. Eggs were harvested and great auks killed for their meat and skins – the flightless birds were easy to round up on beaches and rocky ledges on islands. The UK’s last great auk was killed in 1840, and just four years later the species became globally extinct.
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.//see Wilder Blean bison project
The grey whale is an animal we’re used to seeing on television shows recorded off the Pacific coast of Mexico, where inquisitive animals actively come to boats….
There are records from Cornwall dating back to 1,329 years ago, and Devon claims one of the latest records of this species in the Atlantic, in the year 1610. The Atlantic population quickly plummeted, most likely as a result of hunting, until it was lost completely around 400 years ago.
Large copper butterfly
This striking, bright orange butterfly looks like it is wearing a high-vis jacket. While the small copper is still a familiar sight, the large copper went extinct in the late 1800s. The butterflies living in Britain were a unique variety, different to those found across the North Sea and Channel on mainland Europe. Like many butterflies that have disappeared from the British countryside, the large copper required a very specific environment; it loved wet, boggy fenland and water dock for its caterpillars to feed on. As meadows, marshes and reedbeds were drained from 1634 , their food plants disappeared, and the butterfly was unable to survive.
A range of beetles once lived here that now live in colder places such as Siberia and the Tibetan Plateau. They were able to survive in very cold winters and warming summers. Some were dung beetles, feeding on open grassy plains on the dung left behind from wild horses, elk and aurochs, woolly rhinos and elephants. Warming temperatures meant the beetles were unable to survive, retreating to cooler climates, following their shifting habitats and hosts as reindeer and horses headed north. More recently, the large, shiny horned dung beetle went extinct in Britain in 1974, disappearing as its favoured grasslands become intensively farmed.
Common tree frog
No larger than a 2p coin, the common tree frog was recorded as early as 1646 in Britain and is able survive in our cold and sometimes freezing climate; archaeological remains go back hundreds of thousands of years. A breeding colony existed in the New Forest until the late-1980s and may have clung to life in the British countryside since the 17th century. Changing habitat and collectors saw the end of this unprotected species in Hampshire. Unsuccessful re-introductions of colonies in other parts of Britain have been doomed from the start, comprising different species of tree frogs or released into woodland rather than scrubland.
Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) competing for fish discarded by fishermen in Lake Kerkini, Central Macedonia, Greece Photograph: Marko König/AlamyPelicans once lived throughout Europe. The most recent record in Britain is a medieval bone found near Glastonbury. It’s an enormous bird, whose wingspan is just shy of that of the wandering albatross. There is plenty of suitable habitat in Britain, though it is strongly affected by disturbance when breeding, so potential sites would have to be selected carefully.
An Atlantic bluefin tuna feeds in the waters of Canada’s Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Photograph: Brian J. Skerry/NG/Alamy
Until 80 years ago, shoals of giant bluefin tuna followed the herring and mackerel migrating round our coasts. For many years, the world record tuna caught on rod and line was one hooked a mile off Scarborough in 1933. Big game fishing by the grand personages who descended on the town for this sport every summer probably contributed to the tuna’s demise, as did overharvesting of the fish the tuna ate. Today they appear very rarely off our coasts, but would be likely to return if there’s a reduction in fishing pressure.
Common cranes (Grus grus) at a corn field near Koenigs Wusterhausen, Germany. Photograph: Patrick Pleul/dpa/Corbis
Cranes were once among the commonest breeding birds on British wetlands. They persisted here until the 16th century, when they were hunted to extinction. They have spontaneously returned to the Norfolk Broads, and have been reintroduced to Somerset. The magic of hearing their wild cries as they descend from their migrations – they can fly at 32,000 feet – defies all description.
Male Eurasian Eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) in flight. Photograph: Diane Seddon/Getty Images Because the fossil record is very sparse, it’s unclear when the eagle owl last lived here. The last certain bone is about 9,000 years old, though a possible specimen from the Iron Age has been found in Somerset. Nor is there any certainty about why it disappeared. A small number are living in Britain again, either escapees or migrants from elsewhere in Europe. This vast and beautiful bird is controversial among ornithologists, as it sometimes kills other raptors.
Black-crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) catching a catfish (Ictalurus). Photograph: John Gooday/Alamy
The night heron last bred here in the 16th or 17th century. It is believed to be the celebrated brewes or brues, served at mediaeval banquets. Its nocturnal feeding habits could be an important factor in shaping wetland ecosystems.
A sturgeon in a pool of the Agro Ittica Lombarda sturgeons farm in Calvisano, near Brescia, northern Italy. Photograph: Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images
Of all the species considered for reintroduction here, the Atlantic sturgeon is perhaps the most difficult, as its restoration would require major improvements to both rivers and the sea. It was once a common fish in Britain, migrating through most of our river systems. It can grow to around 18 feet long. Now critically endangered by a combination of overfishing, pollution and the damning and wiering of the rivers in which it breeds, its last European breeding population is in the Gironde-Garonne-Dordogne basin in France.
A stork perches on a stop sign near Immerath, Germany. Photograph: Federico Gambarini/EPA
The last year in which it is known to have bred successfully in this country was 1416, in Edinburgh. Occasional birds have arrived this century, and on a couple of occasions have tried to breed. Its habit of building on people’s roofs has made it one of the most-loved birds in Europe, and generated a rich folklore.
Just over 600 years ago the last pair of white storks nested in Britain; they had suffered from hunting and the loss of watery habitats. They enjoy large open marshland, rivers, dykes and wet farmland, much of which was already disappearing in Britain, even in the 1400s.
A white-tailed sea eagle snaps up a fish in the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Photograph: Drew Buckley/Rex Shutterstock
The white-tailed eagle once lived throughout the country, but was wiped out in Britain in 1916, by persecution and egg collecting. It was restored to the isle of Rum in 1975, and has since spread along the west coast of Scotland. Attempts to re-establish it in East Anglia failed as a result of vocal but poorly-informed opposition. In Finland, it has restricted the range of invasive American mink, that it plucks out of the water when they are swimming. This is likely to be of benefit to the many species on which mink prey.
Wildlife on the edge
It’s too late for many of the species on this page, but much of our wildlife today is in danger. Hedgehog numbers have plummeted, natterjack toads are found in just a few remaining strongholds and farmland birds are declining at an alarming rate – if nothing changes, the purring of the turtle dove could disappear from our countryside completely. We need to act now to halt the declines and let wildlife recover.
Help prevent more wildlife from disappearing
By becoming a member of your Wildlife Trust you can help care for wildlife and wild places, prevent more species from disappearing from our landscape, and even bring back some of those we’ve lost.