Britain's Beasts: Monstrous Myths or Tropical Truths?

With recent reported sightings of a crocodile in Bristol’s River Avon, we look at some of Britain’s more exotic, possibly mythical, wildlife inhabitants.

7th February 2014

5. Bristol crocodile

At the time of writing, a 6ft crocodile has been spotted in Bristol. Initially seen by a bus driver who flagged down police to inform them of his discovery on Bedminster Bridge, Book-keeper Kelly Gray of Bishops-worth has reported seeing it again.

She told the press how she almost crashed her car when she saw the aquatic reptile as she drove through the same area of the city as the bus driver.

The sightings coincide with a film company shooting a horror movie about crocodiles on the Somerset Levels. The company, Hatching Films, have denied all possible involvement with the Bristol sightings, although they admit that it is a marketing dream.

4. Piranhas in the Thames

There’s some possible substance to this one. Not only was a piranha discovered in the Capital’s river in 2004, but stories emerged again in 2010 after the brilliantly-named angler Richard Salmon caught what he believed to be an example of the South American killer fish.

A population of seahorses have indeed been found in the river’s waters, but some fish experts have their doubts over the legitimacy of these piranha examples, believing them instead to be some form of silver dollar fish.

Whatever species they are, it’s likely they’re dumped pets rather than indications of native populations.

3. Rutland Panther

For years, the smallest county in England has been rumoured to host at least one big cat, often assumed to be a black panther or leopard.

Paw prints have been found in golf course bunkers, suspect livestock killings reported in the south of the county, sightings near Belton-in-Rutland and even on Aylestone Meadows in Leicester but the evidence has never been convincingly corroborated.

There seems to be a bit of a hot-spot for the animal around Greetham Valley Golf Course however, with a reported sighting in 2010.

It has often bee suggested that there is more than one cat in the Leicestershire and Rutland area and in 2013, two big cats were spotted in Leicestershire in the space of a day.

The only Rutland Panther that certainly exists is the beer created by Oakham pub and brewery The Grainstore.

The Leicestershire and Rutland Panther Watch keeps tabs on any sightings and the organisation’s head believes there is a breeding big cat population in the East Midlands.

2. Beast of Bodmin Moor

Similarly to the Rutland Panther, the Beast of Bodmin Moor has been spotted by countless members of the Cornwall and Devon public and has become a figure of folklore.

There is plenty of footage of such animals on YouTube; some utterly ridiculous films of black sheep, others more believable.

After the introduction of the Dangerous Animals Act in 1976, keeping animals such as panthers and leopards was outlawed. Until that point it was possible to buy them across the country, even in Harrods.

It is believed by many that these pets were released by owners both before and after the legislation came in.

Big cats have been spotted across the country but in 1995, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food conducted an official investigation into big cat sightings and found, “no verifiable evidence”, to back-up the claims.

1. The Loch Ness Monster

We couldn’t make a list of British beasts without finishing it off with the most famous of them all.

A mythical relic clinging to a life in a Scottish Loch, Nessie was first mentioned in the 6th century. St Columba, the Christian missionary, is said to have banished a “water beast” to the depths of the River Ness after it tried to attack one of his disciples, having already killed a pagan Pictish man.

Modern interest was sparked in 1933 when “a most extraordinary form of animal” was spotted by George Spicer and his wife, crossing the road in front of their car as they returned home from a Scottish holiday via Loch Ness.

It led to wild debate, excitement and scientific doubt that lasted ever since. With a spate of sightings in the mid-1990’s, many inquisitive minds have tried to find evidence of her existence, but nothing irrefutable has ever been found.

After a handful of infamous hoaxes including the iconic Surgeon’s Photo, and with no reported sightings since 2012, these days most people accept that is all she’s ever been.

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