A study by scientists at London's Natural History Museum revealed that Britain has lost almost half of its biodiversity since the Industrial Revolution, and that the nation is one of the worst rated in terms of the extent to which is ecosystems have retained their natural biodiversity. But some of the UK's precious wildlife is still hanging on in key strongholds across the country.

Here is our expert guide to some of the most endangered animal species in Britain, with a few key details on where they can be found, how to identify and why each species is in decline.


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.

Insect on plant
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./Credit: Getty

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.

Turtle dove

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.

Bird by water
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./Credit: Getty

Lesser spotted woodpecker

For some, this is the never-spotted woodpecker. Little bigger than a house sparrow, the lesser is the smallest of the three UK woodpecker species and increasingly seldom seen in Britain. Its strongholds are ancient woodlands of southern England, from Dartmoor to Kent but especially the New Forest.

Its small size and habit of living much of its life high in the woodland canopy means that it is often overlooked but the species has also undergone a dramatic decline in numbers since the 1980s of over 90%. Just 600 pairs may remain in the whole of the UK. The reasons are not well known though it may include loss of open woodland habitat and the standing dead wood that holds their insect food and offers nesting holes.

Lesser-spotted nests are also known to be plundered by the larger great spotted woodpecker, whose numbers have increased dramatically over the same period.

The best means of locating a lesser spotted woodpecker is through the sound of its hammering – which is long and drawn out, rather than short and staccato as with the great spotted. Hear more about this species in our Plodcast.

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A lesser spotted woodpecker on a birch tree
The lesser spotted woodpecker shares a colour scheme with its larger great spotted cousin./Credit: Getty

Wart-biter cricket

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.

Insect on grass
The strangely named wart-biter cricket is becoming rarer due to the loss of its grassland habitats./Credit: Getty

Smooth snake

One of only three native snakes species in the UK, the smooth snake is confined to a handful of heathland areas of southern England. Its numbers have been drastically reduced through loss of these heaths to development.

A hunter of other reptiles, this 60-70cm long snake tends to hide underground, waiting to ambush passing prey. Slender and finely marked, it is not venomous.

Learn more about smooth snakes in our Plodcast

Smooth snakes on Dorset heaths – Countryfile podcast
Nick Dobbs and Fergus Collins of Countryfile Magazine record a podcast with a smooth snake on a Dorset heath. /Credit: Kevin Parr

Bearded false darkling beetle

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.

A beaded false darkling beetle on wood. It has a smooth, flattened carapace
A false darkling beetle on fungi./Credit: Getty

Natterjack toad

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.

Natterjack Toad (Bufo calamita), male calling, Lower Saxony, Germany
The male natterjack inflates his voal sac and makes distinctive loud chattering calls in the breeding season./Credit: Getty
Bee pollinating lavender


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.

Take a look at our British hedgehog guide for information on how to help hedgehogs in your garden.

Close-Up Of Hedgehog On Green Field
From 36 million hedgehogs in 1950 to just 1 million today through loss of hedgerow and scrub habitat./Credit: Getty

Red squirrel

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.

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

Small tortoiseshell butterfly

British butterflies have been in decline in recent years in general and half of the UK's species are now on the UK red list which lists wildlife threatened with extinction. 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. Critically endangered species in even more trouble than the small tortoiseshell include the pearl bordered fritillary, the heath fritillary, the wood white and the high brown fritillary.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Although still relatively easy to find in spring and summer, the small tortoiseshell's steep decline should alarm us all./Credit: Getty

Hen harrier

A silent hunter of moorlands and wild islands, the hen harrier quarters the landscape in a slow, buoyant flight, before dropping to ambush birds and small mammals on the ground.

The species is best known for its courtship skydance in early spring when the sexes engage in a delicate aerial ballet, swooping and weaving together. Males are a delicate grey-blue, like the edge of a storm cloud. The larger female is a sooty brown above but streaked brown and white underside.

Sadly the hen harrier has undergone a serious decline in recent years and is one of the UK's most persecuted animals. On grouse moors, the harrier can have a major effect on gamebird numbers and this has brought it into conflict with those managing the estates for grouse shooting.

An RSPB study published in spring 2023 looked at the results of a GPS tracking programme for the species. Birds were tagged with transmitters and their movements followed. The study found that individual birds were disappearing on average just 120 days after fledging and mortality was highest on grouse moors.

Hen Harrier
A female hen harrier is also known as a ringtail as her tail feathers have distinctive rings of brown and white./Credit: Getty


Carys MatthewsGroup Digital Editor

Carys is the Group Digital Editor of countryfile.com and discoverwildlife.com. Carys can often be found trail running, bike-packing, wild swimming or hiking in the British countryside.

Fergus CollinsEditor, BBC Countryfile Magazine