The sad truth about British indigenous species – not exotic or exciting and too familiar?
Those of you who have read my “About me” section will know that I am currently doing work experience at a local zoo on the Elephants and Big Cats section. The past two weeks have been excellent so far, with many experiences which I hope will stay with me forever. Working at the zoo, I have noticed the incredible number of “opportunities” visitors have to donate money to charities the zoo supports. There are literally collection boxes everywhere! Now don’t get me wrong, there are thousands of endangered species in the world and the sad truth is without the continual financial support of the public they probably will become extinct. However, I think we often forget about the less exotic species, found closer to home.
I was astonished to find that there are 10 species of animal indigenous to Britain that are on the brink of disappearing forever, including the cuckoo, red squirrel (see my second blog) and the iconic British hedgehog. Over the last 10 years the hedgehog population has declined 25% to 1 million. If this decline continues at the current rate, hedgehogs will be extinct in 15 years. A reduction in habitat is the main problem facing the hedgehog, resulting in sharing of their habitat with predatory badgers as well as humans in residential areas. In the residential areas, hedgehogs have to fight against pesticides killing their food (caterpillars and beetles), as well as rat poison, strimming and mowing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. An additional 50,000 hedgehogs on average are killed by motorists or drown in garden ponds.
As mentioned above hedgehogs are not the only species indigenous to Britain that are under threat. There has been a huge effort recently to understand the 60% decline in cuckoo populations over the last 25 years. The behaviour of these birds is well known in our own country but on return from their annual migration to Africa, there seems to be fewer birds than expected. Researchers decided to fit 5 birds with a 5 gram tracking system to see where and when the migrating cuckoos run into trouble. Currently all 5 birds are in Africa, 4 of which have crossed the Sahara heading south.
Saving endangered species has two key parts. Firstly researchers must work to understand the problems facing the animal in question, and then create a strategy to not only positively influence the animal’s population numbers, but also ensure no damage is caused to the animal’s ecosystem. Secondly, once the strategy is approved money must be injected to see the plan through. In terms of Britain’s situation this may be where the likes of the hedgehog and the cuckoo come stuck. The British public already donate a huge amount of money to charities supporting endangered animals outside the UK, but asking them to support British animals instead or as well as, in the current economic climate may prove too much to ask. I fear it may be true that it is the exotic and unfamiliar that will get the limited financial backing and in this case, that does not mean support towards Britain’s indigenous species. It is of course your decision but I urge you to think about the animals you are supporting and not forget the ones closer to home.
British Hedgehog Preservation Society – http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk
Cuckoo tracking website – Location via Google Maps of all 5 cuckoos and a link to a donation page – http://www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking