'Invasive' mammals a threat to UK wildlife

A SERIES of "invasive" mammals introduced to the UK over the centuries are damaging the countryside, an academic study has confirmed.

Some are well-known "villains", such as the American mink, while others, including rabbits and rats, have been here so long they're popularly considered to be a natural species.

Mammals which can cause problems in the countryside range from muntjac deer to the red-necked wallaby, which could do potential damage to capercaillie on Loch Lomond island, the study for the Peoples' Trust for Endangered Species said.

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Impacts include from predating on native species, competing for food and habitat, carrying diseases which can affect wildlife, livestock and humans, breeding with species to produce "hybrids" – as in the case of red and sika deer – or altering the landscape and damaging crops or woodlands.

The UK also now has around 10 per cent of the world's population of Chinese water deer, which have minimal impact on the landscape in this country and are considered "vulnerable" to extinction globally.

The People's Trust's chief executive Jill Nelson said: "Our campaign to conserve Britain's native mammals is rooted in finding more about each animal's behaviour in response to the various threats they face and translating that knowledge into practical conservation action.

"The incursion of non-native mammals into Britain is a major threat to water voles and red squirrels, two of our fastest declining species, and resolving the complex issues around how we deal with this problem is a vital component in preventing their extinction."

A spokesman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Non-native species that become invasive are one of the greatest threats to wildlife after habitat destruction. They are estimated to cost the British economy at least 3 billion a year."

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