When you think of wildlife, UK species rarely spring to mind. Compared to sub-Saharan Africa’s big five, or the coral triangle’s out-of-this-world marine life, local wildlife has tough competition. It might just surprise you to learn that there are some species that call Britain home that could just rival those found overseas.
However, these amazing animals are under threat. From the intensification of agriculture, to pesticide use, to climate change, the future of these species is not certain.
Currently, UK government are re-writing our environmental laws to come into effect post-Brexit. We have a window of opportunity to let our government know what we want from these new laws, to protect our wildlife and environment. Read on to find out how you fight for nature.
1. The basking shark
UK seas are home to the second largest fish in our oceans, the basking shark. They can grow up to 11m in length, and weigh up to 7 tons, almost the same weight as a London bus!
This gentle giant arrives in British waters during our summers, and feeds on zooplankton, so is of no threat to humans. They are slow swimmers, which is where they get their name from, as they swim at an average of 2.5mph, basking in the sun.
Nestled on cliffs and islands along the 31,400km of Britain’s coastline are the ‘clowns’ of the coast, the puffin.
However, the iconic image of a puffin with a mouth full of sand eels is becoming less common. Puffin numbers have plummeted in recent years, and could decline by half within the next forty years.
Climate change is a big threat, as the warming sea is impacting puffins' food source. As well as this, marine pollution, such as oil spills and plastic is having an effect on their numbers.
3. The harbour porpoise
The harbour porpoise is the smallest of our UK cetaceans. They can be seen in our winter months, normally in small groups in shallow water.
They are warm blooded, which means they are constantly grazing to keep their bodies warm. They are big eaters, and one of the deadliest hunters in the sea, catching over 3,000 fish per day!
Unfortunately, harbour porpoises have been affected by fishing practices and it's estimated that 800 porpoises every year are killed in UK waters through entanglement in fishing gear, known as bycatch.
4. Sand lizards
The sand lizard is one of our rarest reptiles. Due to loss of habitat, numbers are declining, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see them in our sandy habitats, sunbathing along the dunes of south England and Wales.
During winter, sand lizards are in hibernation, emerging in spring. In the summer, male sand lizards turn a bright green colour, signalling to females that they’re ready to mate!
5. Grey seals
It might surprise you to learn that the UK’s sea area is three times larger than its land area! Within this huge area, alongside our sharks and porpoises, the UK is also home to vast numbers of seals.
In the early 20th century, seal numbers dropped dramatically, but now there’s an estimated 120,000 grey seals in Britain! This makes up approximately 40% of the world’s population. Proof that given a chance, nature can be restored.
The UK is home to over 200 species of bird, but nearly 30% of these are at risk.
One of these is the lapwing, whose populations in the UK have declined by 64% since 1970. These migratory birds can be found in upland areas during the breeding season, before moving to lowland fields, like the Somerset Levels in winter.