Everybody must take responsibility in ensuring that animals are not put at risk of extinction due to human activity, a Catholic animal welfare group has said.
Catholic Concern for Animals’ (CCA) call came as the charity reacted with dismay to news that more and more British mammals are on the verge of extinction.
The first official Red List for British Mammals, which meets international criteria used to assess threats to wildlife such as elephants and tigers, shows that 11 of Britain’s 47 native mammals are at risk of extinction.
The list indicates species such as wildcats, beavers, various species of bats, red squirrels, voles, mice, shrews and even the hedgehog are in danger.
Chris Fegan, CCA chief executive, said the assessment “makes for depressing reading”.
“The reasons for the particular crisis for each species vary but often it is directly due to human activity such as persecution in the case of the wildcat due to destruction of habitat and we desperately need to return more land to ‘wild space’ so that wildlife can thrive,” Mr Fegan told The Catholic Universe.
“Once again we see the negative effect of human activity on God’s non-human creation and we often think of extinction issues affecting big animals such as polar bears due to climate change or lions, elephants, giraffes, rhinos etc. due to poaching and big game trophy hunting and in far away places such as Africa or the Arctic Ocean but here we see the effect in the UK on much smaller animals, including tiny mammals such as mice and shrews.
“We all need to take responsibility and do what we can to stop such awful extinction outcomes,” Mr Fegan added.
The assessment warns that the mammals are in a precarious state for a range of reasons, from historical persecution to the use of chemicals, development, a loss of habitat and the introduction of non-native species.
Wildcats, with fewer than 20 in the wild in Scotland, and greater mouse-eared bats, with just one known individual, are at the highest risk of going extinct and are classed as critically endangered.
Beavers, which have been reintroduced in recent years after being hunted to extinction by the 1600s, are endangered in Britain, as are red squirrels, water voles and grey-long eared bats.
Hedgehogs and hazel dormice are among those classed as vulnerable to extinction, and a further five species, including mountain hares and harvest mice, are considered to be ‘near threatened’, as they could become at risk in the near future.
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, but lynx and bear are not included as they went extinct here before that time.
For the first time the Red List has been formally accepted by the International Union for the 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 (NatureScot) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.
Mammal Society chairwoman and professor at the University of Sussex Fiona Mathews, who led the report, said it shows a need for a change of approach, with funding and action prioritised on generating results for mammals.
In areas ranging from the planning system to funding for habitat creation, there is a need for more sustained monitoring and intervention over the long term to make sure schemes deliver, she said.
People such as landowners and developers who protect wildlife should be rewarded, she urged, adding that it is not enough just to create small protected areas for mammals.
Picture: Archive photo, dated 27/10/2019, of a red squirrel. A quarter of Britain’s native mammal species, including red squirrels, wildcats and beavers, are at risk of extinction, a new assessment warns. (Danny Lawson/PA).