A hedgehog looks into the lens.

Hedgehog numbers have decreased by almost 50%. Creating a hedgehog home from woodpiles is a great way to offer them a sanctuary in your garden. © Wallpaper Flare

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Hedgehogs and water voles face extinction in new Red List for British mammals

A quarter of British mammals are at risk of extinction. Conservation organisations have worked together to produce the first official Red List for British mammals.

What is the IUCN and its Red List?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is an independent, worldwide organisation that supports the integrity and diversity of nature.

Established in 1948, the IUCN consists of over 1,400 member organisations and 15,000 nature experts in over 160 countries.

The IUCN has become a global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to protect it.

The IUCN Red List is a database of the world's threatened species. It is a powerful indicator of the health of the world's biodiversity and used as an indispensable tool to inform conservation plans.

First official Red List for British Mammals

The first official red list specifically for British mammals was produced recently, highlighting those that are at risk of extinction in the next twenty years.

Out of the 47 native mammals, 11 are at risk of extinction, including the much-loved hedgehogs and water voles. Five are near-threatened and four have an unknown status due to lack of information.

A pictogram showing British mammals at risk of extinction.

The red list pictogram produced by The Mammal Society - a conservation charity in the UK © The Mammal Society

The Red List for British mammals was produced by the Mammal Society for Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

However, the British mammals Red List has been authorised by the IUCN on a regional level. This means it follows the same rigorous system used to classify other internationally recognised and loved mammals such as tigers and elephants.

Senior curator in charge of mammals, Roberto Portella Miguez says, 'The Red List for British mammals raises awareness and highlights how vulnerable species present in the UK are to the risk of extinction. It should also help with stablishing priorities for conservation efforts.'

Why are our native mammals dying?

Reasons for the decline in British mammals differ depending on each animal, although the usual suspects such as destruction of natural habitat, use of chemicals and introduction of non-native species remain at the top of the list.

Hedgehogs have decreased by about 46% over the past 13 years. Scientists think it is due to an increase in farming, habitat fragmentation in urban areas, and the continuing loss of suitable environment over the years.

The water vole population has been diminishing throughout the twentieth century, disappearing from a large proportion of their former sites.

The rise of intense agriculture saw the degradation and loss of habitat. Predation by invasive American mink in the 1980s nearly eradicated the population, causing it to fall by 90%.

A dormous perches on a branch with red berries scattered around.

Loss of ancient woodlands and hedgerows have caused the dormice population to halve in 25 years. This has led to isolated populations and a reduction in genetic diversity, making the adorable little mammals vulnerable to extinction. © Danielle Black/wiki (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Other British mammals balancing on the edge of extinction include the iconic red squirrel, adorable mountain hare and the elusive wildcat.

Roberto says, 'There are various reasons for the decline of British mammals, and these also vary between species.

'These can range from historical persecution, the use of chemicals, development, loss of habitat and the introduction of non-native species as cited in the latest report from the Mammal Society.'

Tackling the extinction of native mammals

While repopulation has been successful in some cases, it does not tackle the root of the problems which mainly lies in degrading environment and habitat loss.

Roberto says, 'In order for them to be removed from the Red List, the populations need to increase. This is only possible by protecting and restoring large areas of suitable habitat.'

Overall, these animals need more wild spaces to recover their populations and form better connections to create a healthy, thriving ecosystem.

Managing how we landscape in future is crucial to the survival of these charismatic creatures. Respecting and protecting natural spaces needs to be a priority when building new homes and offices.

What can individuals do to help?

There are still some species that we know little about and are therefore classed as data deficient.

The Mammal Society has created an app called Mammal Mapper.

The app allows people to record signs and sightings of mammals in the UK. This helps researchers at the Mammal Society understand the current state of British mammals.

A grey long-eared bat rests on red earth.

The grey long-eared bat is very rare and can only be found in southern England. While resting, the bat curls its ears back or tucks them under its wings. © Jan Svetlik/Flickr (BY SA-NC-ND 2.0)

There are also many nature enthusiast organisations that help document the diversity of wildlife in the UK.

Unfortunately, most of these local organisations have limited resources and rely almost entirely on volunteer effort.

However, this means there are opportunities for individuals to support them with donations or actively help with monitoring the species.

Roberto says, 'The Bat Conservation Trust website has a list of contacts so you can find your nearest bat monitoring group and help keep an eye on these fascinating and amazing animals.

'If you are a fan of British mammals, you should support the Mammal Society and become a member. They do amazing work, but for that they rely entirely on contributions via donations and memberships.'

You can also check the Mammal Society's website for local groups to get involved with.

Leaving an area of your garden naturally unkempt creates a haven for mammals like hedgehogs and dormice. They can find an abundance of insects to feed on and use the fallen leaves and twigs to build nests.

Everyone has the power to make a difference, no matter how small.