We are all too familiar with the unfortunate truth that many species’ numbers have been falling over recent years in various countries. It is very common to hear in the news that species such as the UK’s red squirrel or the famous giant Galapagos tortoise are suffering at the hands of human disturbance or interspecific competition. However, in a rare piece of good news, numbers of some of Europe’s most iconic species are on the rise.
Up until the mid-1900s, some of the continent’s renowned animals, predator and prey alike, had struggled for survival as a result of hunting, pollution and habitat destruction. The red kite, for example, was all but extinct in the UK because of mass extermination through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries when they were classified as vermin. This led to the need for human intervention to conserve the species.
A study commissioned by Rewilding Europe of 18 mammal and 19 bird species has shown that, with one exception, their numbers have risen since the 1960s. Species among those doing increasingly well include the European bison, brown bears, grey wolves and white-tailed eagles. Brown bears have doubled in number and the grey wolf population has increased by 30% – a very clear message that conservation techniques can actually make a significant difference to a species’ progress.
It remains a sad fact however, that it is often the iconic species that define nations, such as koalas, bald eagles and giant pandas, or the animals of a ‘fuzzy’ nature, that we seem keener to protect. It is questionable whether a lone natterjack toad would have quite the same emotional impact in a TV advert as a clumsy tiger cub, or that you would be that thrilled to receive a stuffed one in an adoption pack! The UK’s native bat species, for instance, have been in decline for the past century as a result of habitat loss through building developments and the use of insecticides diminishing their food supply. Do these species deserve our attention any less that those that dominate media coverage?
While it is fantastic news that some species are steadily making a comeback, we need to capitalise on this success worldwide and perhaps spare a thought for Mother Nature’s