Scottish wildcat and red squirrel among UK's most threatened land mammals

Two of Scotland's most iconic native mammals have been named in a list of British animals facing a serious risk of extinction.

A Red Squirrel

A new report from the Mammal Society puts the Scottish wildcat and red squirrel among the most threatened animals in the UK.

A total of nine of Scotland’s mammals have been categorised as critical, endangered or vulnerable. A further six are listed as near-threatened.

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Otters, hedgehogs and water voles are some of the others considered at risk.

The study, by scientists at the University of Sussex, found creatures such as hedgehogs and water voles have experienced population declines of up to 66 per cent over the past 20 years.

Experts blame a range of factors, including climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths.

The review was commissioned by Natural England, working with Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Resources Wales.

It assesses the fortunes and future prospects of all 58 of the UK’s land mammals, including native, alien and reintroduced species.

The report also shows some animals are faring better than they were two decades ago.

Five species have increased in numbers, while 18 others have expanded their geographical range.

Otters and polecats are now found in more locations than before. The same goes for beavers and wild boar, previously extinct native species that have been reintroduced.

However, many success stories are for non-native creatures such as the grey squirrel.

Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society chair and professor of environmental biology at the University of Sussex, said: “This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores for ever.”

There is little information for many species, including common animals such as rabbits and moles. The Mammal Society is calling for further research to get a clearer picture of UK populations.

Conservationists have welcomed the report which they say will help guide efforts to safeguard wildlife.

“Scotland would be a very different place without charismatic mammals such as red squirrels and hedgehogs. We owe it to future generations to work to ensure their survival,” said Susan Davies, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

“It is clear from this report that some mammals, including the Scottish wildcat and water vole, still need urgent help to survive, and that we still lack enough information about many mammals to be able to be certain about their conservation status.

“However, there is also much to celebrate, including the beginning of a recovery of red squirrel numbers in Scotland and the welcome return of otters, beavers and pine martens. These success stories show how concerted action can bring species back from the brink.”