10 of the most endangered animal species in Britain

Some once-common species are disappearing from our countryside – here are 10 that have suffered acute declines in recent years

21st October 2017
red squirrel

1. Small tortoiseshell butterfly

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Once a common sight in gardens, parks and hedgerows, the small tortoiseshell is in steep decline. Getty Images/Robert Trevis-Smith

British butterflies have been in decline in recent years in general. But a species that has particularly suffered if the pretty small tortoiseshell. Once one of our commonest butterfly species, in 2013 it was reported that numbers had dropped by 77% in the previous 10 years.

Butterfly populations have struggled here on recent years because of the wet springs and summers and, as with most of the animals on this list, a decline in the availability of its natural habitat.

For 10 butterflies to spot visit here

2. New Forest cicada

Cicada
Normally associated with Mediterranean holidays, the cicada can be heard in UK. Or it could – it's last stronghold in the New Forest has fallen silent. Getty Images/Berndt Fischer

While these insects are common throughout Europe, they are struggling desperately in Britain. Their population is now confined to small areas of the New Forest in Hampshire and there have been no recorded sightings of the bug since the turn of the Millennium.

The has led some commentators to believe that it has already become extinct, but experts say it suffered a similar lull in the 1940s and 1960s, only to be spotted again. Tracking its whereabouts and numbers is not easy. The cicada emits a high-pitched song only on sunny days between May and July. So high-pitched in fact that it is imperceptible to most humans, especially those over the age of 40.

3. Turtle dove

Turtle dove
The delicious purring of turtle doves used to be the sound of a British summer. But a massive decline means you have to work hard to hear one today. Getty Images/

A once familiar sight and a sound often associated with the British summer, the turtle dove has decline by a staggering 97% since 1970 and now resides on the Global Red List for Endangered Species.

Smaller than its collared dove cousin, the turtle dove is now only found in scattered locations in southern and eastern England, where some farmers are working with the RSPB to create feeding habitats, the loss of which are blamed for the bird’s decline. In addition, thousands of turtle doves are shot in southern Europe each year by hunters, further reducing numbers.

Discover more about turtle doves

4. Cosnard’s net-winged Beetle

Cosnard's net-wing beetle is a type of soldier beetle.
A type of soldier beetle, Cosnard's net-winged beetle is found in only a handful of sites nationwide. Alamy

Only found in the Forest of Dean/Wye Gorge area and on the South Downs, this little beetle has declined largely due to a loss of large, old beech trees where it spends its days.

Research by Natural England earlier this year suggested that this was just one many breeds of soldier beetle at risk. Around 15% of the species are endangered.

5. Wart-biter Cricket

Wart biter cricket
The strangely named wart-biter cricket is becoming rarer due to the loss of its grassland habitats. Getty Images/Peter Lilja

This cricket – whose name comes from an old tradition of using them to bite warts off skin – can only be found in four naturally occurring locations across East Sussex, Dorset and Wiltshire.

While another population has been re-introduced in Kent the wart-biter is at a high-risk of extinction due to loss of its habitat on heathland and chalk landscape as well as its prey.

6. V-moth

V MOth
We should be concerned when once-common species such as this V moth decline calamitously.Alamy

Although it can be found across most of the country, today’s V-moth population is thought to be less than 1% of its 1960s levels. Despite enjoying a plentiful habitat of cultivated land such as parks and gardens, the V-moth uses currants as their caterpillar food plant – and fewer of us are growing currants in our gardens, which may be causing the decline.

7. Bearded false darkling beetle

false darkling beetle
Almost entirely confined to the New Forest, the bearded false darkling beetle may soon be lost to Britain.

Image via Species Recovery Trust

This brilliant beetle is only to be found in five areas of south-east Britain. One such location is the New Forest, which has an abundance of the beetle’s favourite places to live: deadwood as well as oak trees.

Rural development and deforestation has removed the beetle’s chosen habitat in the vast majority of Britain resulting in it being classified as ‘endangered’ and at severe risk of disappearing completely from these shores.nt. 

8. Natterjack toad

Natterjack toad
The male natterjack inflates his voal sac and makes distinctive loud chattering calls in the breeding season. Getty Images/Werner Bollmann

One of only two species of toad in the UK, this noisy amphibian is said to be audible over several kilometres but sadly there are vast swathes of Britain in which it cannot be heard at all.

It has all but gone from these islands, appearing mainly in small areas of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and along the western coast from Lancashire to Dumfries. They have been reintroduced in Hampshire and Surrey but are still considered endangered, despite female Natterjacks being able to lay up to 7,500 eggs during breeding season.

A good place to see natterjack toads is the coast near Southport in Lancashire

9. Hedgehog

Hedgehog
From 36 million hedgehogs in 1950 to just 1 million today – what has gone wrong in the UK? Getty Images/Toms Rek / EyeEm

This much-loved creature has seen a harsh decline in the last 70 years. In 1950 there were an estimated 36 million hedgehogs in the UK. Sadly, reports last year suggested that had dropped to just one million in 2013, a third of levels at the start of the century.

It is considered to be partly due to warmer winters that have affected their hibernation patterns, waking them up at the wrong time of year, before there is enough food around. New roads and building developments constructed in their habitat may also be a factor.

Find out how to help hedgehogs here

10. Red squirrel

Red squirrel
The red squirrel was once considered a pest – now its grey cousin is the problem. Getty Images/morgan stephenson

The ever-popular red squirrel has been in decline since the early 20th century and has dwindled to an estimated population of only 140,000. This compares to the 2.5 million strong North American grey squirrel pushing it out of most areas since its introduction to the UK. Now the reds are only commonly found in the far north of England and Scotland.

There were encouraging signs of a small fight-back for the Red squirrel in recent years, but their susceptibility to squirrel pox means they remain very much in the shadow of the grey. 

You can find some welcome good news about red squirrels here

You are currently reading: 10 of the most endangered animal species in Britain - 21st October
Get your first 5 issues for just £5 when you subscribe to BBC Countryfile magazine!

Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.

Countryfile Magazine - Current Issue