THE SCOTTISH wildcat is included in a list of mammals at high risk of extinction in the face of threats such as disease and the loss of their natural habitat.

A study co-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage has revealed at least one in five British mammals face extinction.

Red squirrels and grey long-eared bats are also among the species which face severe threats to their survival, the first major review of British mammals for more than 20 years revealed.

Populations of nine species, including hedgehogs, water voles, hazel dormice and even rabbits, have declined in the last 20 years, the study of 58 native, "naturalised", introduced and reintroduced species, showed.

Scottish Wildlife Trust called for urgent action to reverse the decline saying that some mammals including the Scottish wildcat and water vole will need "urgent help to survive".

The Trust's director of conservation said: “Scotland would be a very different place without charismatic mammals such as red squirrels and hedgehogs. We owe it to future generations to work to ensure their survival."


While the study found that almost one in five species (12 out of 58) is threatened with extinction across Britain, a lack of data means the true figure is likely to be higher.

The report says that the wildcat, now only found in Scotland, is under increasing threat of extinction. It was estimated there were 3,500 in 1995, but in 2015 it was estimated there were between 115 and 314 wildcats.

But the report being launched by The Mammal Society says that may be a huge over-estimate.

The non-native plant and animal species that are invading Scotland

The report says the main driver for the decline is interbreeding between Scottish wildcats and domestic and feral cats. Experts say the wildcats are also suffering due to loss of habitat, including trees. There is also concern that snaring, poisoning, road accidents and disturbed dens are having an effect.

The report says that hedgehog numbers have fallen by two-thirds since the previous estimate in 1995, while red squirrels have also suffered marked declines and water vole populations are thought to be just a 10th of what they were in the 1990s.


There was better news for some species, such as otters, whose range has expanded since the banning of pesticides which poisoned their river homes, and pine martens, polecats and badgers are recovering from former persecution.

Deer, which have no natural predators in the UK, have increased in number, and beavers and wild boar have returned to British shores since the last time such a study was completed.

The study, examined 1.5 million records of mammals across Britain including data from "citizen science" reports and local wildlife groups.

It maps where mammals are found and estimates their population, and how that has changed since previous studies in the 1990s, and assesses their risk of extinction against internationally agreed criteria.

Fiona Mathews, chairman of the Mammal Society and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, warned that Britain is on a "little bit of a precipice".

"We have a few winners - the deer and carnivores - but if you look beyond the deer and the carnivores, it's difficult to see many native species that look like they're are doing well or increasing," she said.

She added that there is a need to think about fixes that work, rather wasting money on things such as road crossings for mammals that are ineffective, and to look at the role animals including beavers and wild boar play in the landscape.

And she added: "We need to stop thinking of wildlife as something that happens somewhere else, and we just put a ring around it, and that's all your animals sorted.

"The idea of tiny nature reserves, national parks and so on is a bit of a worry because most of the British landscape isn't like that.

"Most wild animals move over a wide distance, and we need to make sure we have connective landscapes, we have places throughout Britain where animals have a home."

She called for more research to get a clearer and more accurate picture of Britain's mammal populations.