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05 April 2021
Last year the first official Red List for British Mammals was produced, highlighting the species most at risk of extinction in the UK. The study showed that of 47 mammals native to Britain, 11 are at imminent risk of extinction and a further 5 species are classified as 'near-threatened'. Among those species most at risk are the water vole, hazel dormouse, hedgehog and grey long-eared bat.
The Red Listing process follows an internationally-agreed set of criteria to assess the threat of extinction based on rates of decline, population size, geographic distribution and probability of recolonisation. The reasons of decline vary between species, whether it is extensive habitat loss in the case of bats and hazel dormouse, historical persecution in the case of the beaver, or the introduction of non-native predators as is the case for water vole.
There are still gaps in the research, however. For many species, particularly the UK's 17 species of resident bat, very little information on population size trends is available. The propensity of some bat species to switch roosting sites is just one factor that makes roost count data difficult to decipher. Furthermore, for species such as the brown long-eared bat a wealth of information is available on populations that reside within buildings, whereas very little is known about their use of tree roosts. For whiskered, Brandt's and Alcathoe bats, we simply have insufficient information to make any assessment at all. These sources of uncertainty need to be addressed if we are to gain a clearer understanding of the status of out bat species across the country, perhaps through more long-term studies and monitoring programmes.
One of the bat species classified as 'vulnerable' within the Red List for British Mammals is the barbastelle. This species is listed on the basis of small and fragmented populations. It is thought that the total population size could be less than 10,000 individuals. This is combined with a decline in the availability of veteran trees and ancient woodland.
These 'at-risk' species need urgent attention. Central to their recovery will be the protection and restoration of large areas of suitable habitat and fundamental changes in the way we manage our landscapes and plan future developments.
It will also be essential to commit to sustainable development, delivering housing schemes that do not come at the expense of our vital wildlife. The 2020 Environment Bill will bring into UK law environmental protections and recovery that will affect developers in England. For guidance and advice on how to ensure your development can protect and encourage the recovery of UK wildlife while also complying with UK legislation, contact our expert ECOSA team.