The United Kingdom is home to some unique and charming wildlife; however, many native species are sadly at risk of extinction. This is truly a tragedy, and it’s horrifying to think that several of these species may soon no longer exist. These beautiful animals could disappear completely.
There is a range of reasons why these species have become endangered – typically relating to excessive farming, disruption to the natural environment, climate change, and pollution. All of which could be prevented if humans were more empathetic and caring towards animals.
In this article, we share information on the 20 most critically endangered species in the UK and explain the threats to each species.
20 Most Endangered Animals in the UK
Given below is an overview of the UK’s most endangered species.
Bats – Pipistrelle
Bats are beautiful creatures and the only mammal able to fly. People often consider them rodents – due to their similarities in appearance. However, bats’ genetics are far closer to humans than rats and mice.
Most types of bats in the UK are considered endangered species, with certain varieties having seen over 70% population decrease since the 1980s. The Pipistrelle and the Grey long-eared bat are some of the most endangered bat species.
To encourage the conservation and protection of bats, you can hang a bat box in a safe place in your garden and grow plants that bring in a lot of insects to keep the bats well-fed.
- Roosts in trees
- Building work that destroys their nests
- Chemically treated building materials
- Natural habitat destruction
- Issues with commuting due to roads
Beavers, native to the UK, were hunted to near extinction in the 16th century for their fur, meat, and scent glands. They’re commonly found in marshes, rivers, and wetlands.
In recent years, beavers have been re-introduced in the UK to restore their natural ecosystem.
However, despite these efforts, beavers remain endangered due to several factors. One of the main reasons is habitat loss and degradation, as their wetland territories are being drained or destroyed for agriculture and development.
Some landowners sometimes see these cute animals as nuisances, and there have been instances of illegal killing or removal.
Beavers are actually a cornerstone species in the environment, and their presence has a lot of positive contributions to the surrounding areas.
If you’re interested in beavers, I recommend checking out the book “Eager the Beaver,” which shows just how important these species are – I found it to be a fascinating read. It’s interesting to see how they impact the well-being of other animals in the ecosystem.
- Marshes, rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, and ponds.
- Over-hunting in earlier centuries
- Disease and pollution
- Destruction of natural habitats
Birds – Starling
Starlings are uniquely patterned birds with distinct migratory habits – these guys leave the UK for hotter countries in the winter.
Unfortunately, due to the destruction of their nesting sites and environmental issues interfering with their reproductive and breeding season both, these birds are in danger of becoming extinct and are facing a steep population decline
The use of pesticides and habitat loss from urbanization and agricultural intensification may also contribute to their decline.
- Wooded areas, moorlands, roosting in trees
- Habitat loss
- Intensified agriculture
The Scottish Wildcat is a cute cat species native to Scotland. Only a handful of them are left in the wild, despite the efforts of conservation organisations to protect them.
In previous decades, people would neuter feral cats like this breed in order to reduce their population, as they would eat poultry on farmlands. This also promoted widespread hunting, which has since been made illegal. Also, their instinctive territories have been destroyed through agricultural growth.
People reproducing them with domestic cats has also affected their genetic purity and population size.
- The edge of woodlands, moorlands, and mountains
- Domestic cat population growth
- Environmental loss
Hazel Dormice are a uniquely cute breed of tiny mice. These little fellas typically live in bushes and woodland all over the UK. They are classed as an arboreal species because they live in trees and eat insects, tree flowers, and fruit. Their populations are in danger from the knock-on effects of excessive agriculture.
Namely, using herbicides and pesticides reduces their food supply by killing the animals they eat. This, in turn, makes it harder for the Dormice to breed, which means their population has plummeted.
They are at risk of being completely wiped out due to the fragmentation of their territories, which makes it even harder for this nocturnal mammal to find mates for reproduction.
- Hedgerows, woodland, and coppiced woodlands
- Destruction of instinctive territories
- Pesticides and herbicides impacting food sources
Anybody who has lived in the UK for the past 20 or so years will know how rare it has become to see a red squirrel with its bushy tail and distinct red coat.
I remember in my childhood over 20 years ago that they would be relatively common to see in woodland walks. However, I can’t even recall the last time I’ve seen one in natural England now. It’s a shame, and now they are close to becoming extinct.
The main cause of the decline of the red squirrel population is the invasive species of grey squirrels – introduced into the UK during the 19th century by an English Duke.
These grey squirrels out-compete the red squirrel when it comes to collecting food. Also, they expose red squirrels to a deadly virus called squirrel pox – which has caused the population to fall.
- Woods and forests, and trees
- Grey squirrels
- Lack of food (out-competed)
- Squirrel pox
Great Crested Newt
Great Crested Newts, the largest and rarest of the three species of newts found in the UK, have become rapidly threatened due to agriculture, the loss of habitat, and the pollution of river ecosystems.
The newts require clean and undisturbed habitats, such as ponds, wetlands, and woodland edges, to breed and survive. However, sadly, these habitats have been degraded by changes in land use, like urbanization and agriculture.
Pollution from pesticides and fertilizers has further damaged their population.
- Rivers, arable farmland, grassland, and ponds
- Agriculture – pesticides and fertilizer
- Damage to habitats
Hedgehogs are easily one of the cutest on this list; however, they have also become one of the most threatened. There are several threats that have pushed these animals to the brink of extinction.
The main threat to the hedgehog population is urbanization – where their original living environments have become uninhabitable and dangerous. This is amplified by the destruction of land and increased road coverage and traffic. Hedgehogs are often run over and killed on the road.
The effects of the industrial revolution and pollution have also had a detrimental effect on hedgehogs, whose unique hibernation patterns make them sensitive to several biodiversity issues.
Larger urban populations not only reduce their natural habitats but also increase the populations of predatory species, like foxes, who eat hedgehogs.
- Hedgerows, woods, fields, and parks
- Increased predators
- Other pollution
While you might not find these venomous snake species as cute as some of the other animals on this list, they are still a vital part of the UK’s natural ecosystem.
Adders have been threatened by a range of issues – for one, they require diverse habits which have been destroyed in recent years.
However, the main issue is persecution and deliberate killings. Because adders are venomous species, they are often intentionally killed for safety (even though this violates the Wildlife and Countryside act).
They are also accidentally killed by lawnmowers, agriculture, urbanization, and other changes to the natural ecosystem.
- Moorland, open woodland, heathland, and fields
Threats to Species
- Intentional killings
Wildcats, a native carnivore species in the UK with signature russet brown fur, are endangered for several reasons. Sadly they are one of the most endangered species on this island.
Primarily, the type of habitats they need has been reduced and damaged over decades, making it harder for them to hunt and thus reproduce.
The other reason is their interactions with domestic cats and cross-breeding. In terms of population dilution, there is an estimated population of one purebred wildcat for every 3000 wild feral cats with mixed genes.
This means that finding two pure wildcats to breed is highly rare, and the wildcat gene is becoming hard to find due to crossbreeding.
- Scottish Highlands, moorlands, and woodlands
- Loss of habitat
- Domestic cats
Due to a decreasing population, these beautiful, mysterious crickets have recently become incredibly rare. They require a specific environment of grasslands with tall grasses, where they lay their eggs and feed on grasses and herbs.
However, these habitats have been damaged on a large scale by intensive agriculture and urban development.
They are also victims of dangerous shifts in the ecosystem, suffering from knock-on effects from other bad practices. For example, the use of pesticides and herbicides has limited their food sources – making it harder for them to survive, thus also contributing to their decline.
- Wetlands and tall grasses
- Pesticides and herbicides
The Smooth Snake
Smooth snakes are a unique species found in the UK, which, unlike adders, are not venomous.
The snakes require heathland habitats with suitable prey, such as lizards and small mammals, to survive and breed. However, these environments have been destroyed by forestry practices, agriculture, and urbanization.
Global warming has also impacted their populations by altering the availability and quality of their living environments.
- Heathland, dry slopes, and humid heats
- Forestry practices
Otters, semi-aquatic mammals found in freshwater and marine habitats in the UK, are one of the cutest animals to come under threat in recent years.
The otters require clean and undisturbed environments such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Sadly these environments have been degraded by water pollution, such as pesticides and heavy metals.
Human activities, such as boating, fishing, and recreational use, have also disrupted their behaviors.
- Rivers, lakes, and wetlands
- Water pollution
- Human activities
Water voles are cute semi-aquatic rodents found in the UK’s rivers, streams, and wetlands. These have become under threat from predation, disease, and the destruction of nature.
Voles need reeds and sedges to feed, breed, and escape from predators. But these conditions have been destroyed due to human intervention. Changes in water quality have created further damage.
Also, predatory species, like the non-native American mink, have preyed upon the voles, causing population declines. They also need a lot of food, as they are known to eat around 80% of their body weight in food every day!
- Rivers, streams, and wetlands
- Non-native predators
- Water pollution
- Environmental change
Most Cicadas are not native to the UK, but a few species have been introduced throughout the last century. Sadly, these cute, chirping bugs have been put at risk due to human activity.
The one native cicada species in the UK is the New Forest cicada, although these haven’t been seen in over a decade due to a massive reduction in their population.
Cicadas are not officially classified as endangered in the UK, but their populations are likely declining due to the unsuitability of the climate and environment for their survival and reproduction.
- Warm, dry climates, trees and shrubs
Threats to Species
- Limited food sources
Natterjack toads typically live in coastal dunes, heaths, and grasslands. They have become an endangered species in the UK due to the loss of suitable vegetation, such as heather and gorse, to breed, feed, and shelter.
These unique toads are sensitive to pollution, affecting their mating success and survival.
- Dunes, heaths, and grasslands
- Loss of natural vegetation
Cosnard’s net-winged Beetle
Cosnard’s net-winged beetle is a beautiful breed of beetle that is native to the UK and has recognizable black and orange striped wings. These unique insects are now becoming incredibly rare and are having issues with population growth.
This beetle depends on ancient woodland locations with mature woods, and its decline is primarily due to the loss of these environments.
The beetle is also very sensitive to temperature and humidity, making it vulnerable to global warming and climate change, as their environments are becoming more unsuitable for their survival.
- Ancient woodlands
Threats to Species
- Changes in climate conditions
- Environmental destruction
Small tortoiseshell butterfly
The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly is also an endangered species in the UK due to the loss of natural living conditions and seasonal changes.
The use of deadly dangerous chemicals in agricultural areas has also impacted their food sources and contributed to their decline.
Climate issues have further affected their population, as warmer winters and wetter summers disrupt their life cycle.
- Grassy meadows, hedgerows, and woodland edges
- Interrupted breeding season patterns
- Global warming
The Turtle Dove, a migratory bird species, is under threat due to hunting and environmental changes and is now considered endangered.
The intensification of agriculture has resulted in the loss of traditional habitation and food sources, such as wildflower meadows and hedgerows, essential for the turtle dove’s survival.
Hunting the species in their wintering grounds has also led to a decline in their population.
- Wildflower meadows and hedgerows
- Environmental changes
- Loss of food sources
Bearded false darkling beetle
The Bearded false darkling beetle is a small but majestic bug. Despite having tough shells, they are at risk of extinction from several directions.
These invertebrates are on the red list of extinction, and their existence is threatened in the UK due to a range of changes in the natural world.
They typically live in rotting tree stumps in the natural landscape and are found in several scattered locations around the country.
Almost half of their population has been destroyed in the last decade due to the loss of their required environmental conditions and their inefficient ability to spread their population. These guys don’t travel well, so if a territory becomes uninhabitable, they have little chance of escaping.
- Rotting tree stumps
Threats to Species
- Loss of reproductive environments
- Difficult breeding conditions.
These are only 20 of the endangered species, and in reality, there are many more. The UK is only one country, and all other countries have animals at risk of disappearing.
When you look at the reasons for these threats, it’s clear how much of this could be prevented if humans were more compassionate.
Factors like climate change, farming, the introduction of non-native species, and the destruction of natural habitats all threaten the existence of thousands of animal species worldwide.
Hopefully, this article has inspired you to make a difference and care more about the natural world around you. Check out these other Endangered Animal Statistics for more information!