List of extinct animals of the British Isles

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This is a list of extinct animals of the British Isles, including extirpated species. Only a small number of the listed species are globally extinct (most famously the Irish elk, great auk and woolly mammoth). Most of the remainder survive to some extent outside the islands. The list includes introduced species only in cases where they were able to form self-sustaining colonies for a time. Only Pleistocene species, and specifically those extinct since the Ipswichian interglacial (c.130,000 - c.115,000 BP), Devensian glaciation (c.115,000 – c. 11,700 BP) or into the Holocene (c.11,700 BP - present), are included (that is, the assemblage that can be approximately considered the 'modern' fauna which displays insular differences from the mainland European fauna). The date beside each species is the last date when a specimen was observed in the wild or, where this is not known, the approximate date of extinction.

Overview[edit]

For most of its history, the British Isles were part of the main continent of Eurasia, linked by the region now known as Doggerland. Throughout the Pleistocene (Ice age) the climate alternated between cold glacial periods, including times when the climate was too cold to support much fauna, and temperate interglacials when a much larger fauna was present. Insularity first occurred around 125,000 BP, during the Ipswichian interglacial,[1] when a warming climate raised sea levels and flooded Doggerland. This temperate climate supported an assemblage of species characterised by straight-tusked elephant (Palaeodoxodon antiquus). Around 115,000 BP the climate began to cool again as the Devensian glaciation began. The temperate species began to go extinct locally (many survived in southern refugia elsewhere in Europe). With the cooling climate, the sea level fell and by 60,000 BP a land bridge reformed so new or returning species could repopulate Britain. The colder climate supported a biome favoured by woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius).[2] By around 20,000 BP the climate was so cold, with much of Britain under ice and the rest a polar desert, so that little life could survive, and the glacial fauna also went extinct. The climate began to warm again around 11,700 BP, entering the present climatic period known as the Holocene. Animals repopulated Britain and Ireland. Many of the former species had gone extinct during the interval, but the majority of the surviving European temperate fauna, and some new immigrants, including modern humans (Homo sapiens), were able to reach Britain until the rising sea level once again isolated the islands. Great Britain was cut off from mainland Europe in around 8,200 BP by the Storegga Slide tsunami flooding Doggerland.[3]

Extinctions in Britain over the period have thus had three main causes:

  • Climate change as the ecosystem swung from temperate woodland and pasture, through open mammoth steppe to uninhabitable polar desert, and back.
  • Habitat loss brought about by human activities, such as the clearing of woodland or draining of marshland.
  • Hunting by humans.

It is important to remember that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence; the fossil record is always incomplete;[4] and many of the early dates are very approximate, since caves in Britain were often excavated before modern archaeological stratifications and dating techniques.[5][6]

Key[edit]

† - A species that is globally extinct
* - A species that is known to have been introduced by humans and was never present by natural immigration.

Some animals have gone extinct several times and then recolonized. The date given is of the most recent extinction. Species that have been introduced or reintroduced by humans are noted.

Mammals[edit]

Common Name Species Order and Family Extinction/Extirpation Date Notes and References
Straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus Proboscidea: Elephantidae c. 115,000 BP Late Pleistocene [7][8][5]
Woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius Proboscidea: Elephantidae c. 14,500-14,000 BP [9]
Barbary macaque Macaca sylvanus Primates: Cercopithecidae c. 130,000 BP [5][6][10]
Neanderthal Homo neanderthalensis Primates: Hominidae c. 50,000 BP Have left some genetic traces in modern humans.[6][11]
Eurasian beaver Castor fiber Rodentia: Castoridae 1526 A.D. Reintroduced to Britain; never known to have lived in Ireland
Arctic lemming Dicrostonyx torquatus Rodentia c. 10,000 BP [5]
Steppe lemming Lagurus lagurus Rodentia c. 8000 BP
*Coypu Myocastor coypus Rodentia 1978 Modern, introduced non-native; eradicated in Britain in 1978, introduced to Ireland in 2010.
*Muskrat Ondatra zibethicus Rodentia 1937 Introduced, non-native; eradicated in 1937.[12]
Narrow-headed vole Microtus gregalis Rodentia c. 8000 BP
Root vole Microtus oeconomus Rodentia c. 1500 BP
Steppe pika Ochotona pusilla Lagomorpha c. 8000 BP
Cave hyena Crocuta crocuta spelaea Carnivora c. 32,000 BP [5][13]
Arctic fox Vulpes lagopus Carnivora c. 10,000 BP [5]
Cave bear Ursus spelaeus Carnivora c. 18,000 BP
Cave lion Panthera spelaea Carnivora c. 32,000 BP [5]
Brown bear Ursus arctos Carnivora c. 500 A.D.[14] c. 1000 – 500 BC in Ireland; see Bears in Ireland
Polar bear Ursus maritimus Carnivora c. 18,000 BP [15]
Eurasian lynx Lynx lynx Carnivora c. 700 A.D.[16]
Grey wolf Canis lupus Carnivora 1786 A.D. 1166 in Wales, 1390 in England, 1680 in Scotland/Britain, 1786 in Ireland; see Wolves in Great Britain and Wolves in Ireland
Scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium latidens Carnivora c. 26,000 BP [17]
Wolverine Gulo gulo Carnivora c. 6000 BP
Walrus Odobenus rosmarus Carnivora c. 1000 BP Occasional vagrant[18]
European Ice Age leopard Panthera pardus spelaea Carnivora c. 32,000 BP [5]
Greater mouse-eared bat Myotis myotis Chiroptera 1990 A solitary male is known from a single hibernation site in Sussex. [19]
Narrow-nosed rhinoceros Stephanorhinus hemiotoechus Perissodactyla c. 12,000 BP
Tarpan Equus ferus ferus Perissodactyla c. 7000 BP Re-established proxy in the form of free roaming domestic horses[20]
European wild ass Equus hemionus hydruntinus Perissodactyla c. 300,000 BP
Woolly rhinoceros Coelodonta antiquitatis Perissodactyla c. 10,000 BP
Gray whale Eschrichtius robustus Artiodactyla c. 598 BP
European hippopotamus Hippopotamus antiquus Artiodactyla c. 135-114,000 BP Ipswichian [5][21]
Irish elk Megaloceros giganteus Artiodactyla c. 6000 BP
Eurasian elk Alces alces Artiodactyla c. 1300 A.D.[22]
*Siberian roe deer Capreolus pygargus Artiodactyla 1945 Non-native, introduced in England from escapees in early 20th century; exterminated by 1945[23][24]
Reindeer Rangifer tarandus Artiodactyla c. 1100 A.D.[25] Extirpated in Ireland c. 7500 BC.[26][27][28]
Saiga antelope Saiga tatarica Artiodactyla c. 10,000 BP
Bourbon gazelle Gazella borbonica Artiodactyla [29]
Muskox Ovibos moschatus Artiodactyla c. unknown
Eurasian aurochs Bos primigenius primigenius Artiodactyla c. 1000 BP Select breeds of free roaming domestic cattle are used as an ecological proxy as part of some conservation grazing initiatives.[30]
Steppe bison Bison priscus Artiodactyla c. unknown [5]
†Bison schoetensacki[31] Bison schoetensacki Artiodactyla
Wild boar Sus scrofa Artiodactyla c. 1400 A.D. Reintroduced to Britain,[32] extirpated from Ireland.[33]

Birds[edit]

Fish[edit]

Amphibians[edit]

Reptiles[edit]

Insects[edit]

Beetles[edit]

Bees, wasps and ants[edit]

Flies[edit]

Butterflies and moths[edit]

General reference: Waring et al., 2009.[50]

Dragonflies and damselflies[edit]

Caddisflies[edit]

Arachnids[edit]

Crustaceans[edit]

Molluscs[edit]

Land snails[edit]

Reintroduction and re-establishment[edit]

The white-tailed eagle has been successfully re-established on the western coast of Scotland.[55] Having clung on in parts of Wales,[56] red kites have been successfully re-established in parts of England and Scotland.[57] Ongoing projects involve both these species: the corn crake into parts of England and Scotland, and the great bustard on Salisbury Plain.

European beavers have been reintroduced to parts of Scotland, and there are plans to bring them back to other parts of Britain. A five-year trial reintroduction at Knapdale in Argyll started in 2009 and concluded in 2014.[58] A few hundred beavers live wild in the Tay river basin, as a result of escapes from a wildlife park.[59] A similar reintroduction trial is being undertaken on the river otter in Devon, England.[60] Also, around the country, beavers have been introduced into fenced reserves for many reasons including flood prevention.[61] In 2016, beavers were recognised as a British native species, and will be protected under law.[62]

In 2008, Eurasian elk were released into a fenced reserve on the Alladale Estate in the Highlands of Scotland. Reindeer were re-established in 1952; approximately 150–170 reindeer live around the Cairngorms region in Scotland.

Set up by the Wildwood Trust, Konik horses have been established across many reserves as a proxy for the extinct tarpan.[63]

In 1998, MAFF, now known as DEFRA released a report concerning the presence of two populations of wild boar living freely in the UK.[64] These boar are thought to have escaped from wildlife parks, zoos and from farms where they are farmed for their meat, and gone on to establish breeding populations.[65][66]

Around 20 white storks pass through the UK each year.[67] A colony at the Knepp Wildland in West Sussex, aided by zoologist Roisin Campbell-Palmer, hopes to reinforce these off-path migrants by introducing adults into a fenced reserve, where the juveniles born will be able to establish other colonies further afield.[68]

The northern clade of the pool frog was reintroduced from Swedish stock in 2005, to a single site in Norfolk, England, following detailed research to prove that it had been native before its extinction around 1993.

Smaller species, mainly reptiles, such as the green lizard and Aesculapian snake, have formed colonies probably due to a result of release from captivity.[69] There have also been calls for the return of the European tree frog to the wild.[70]

Established in 2020, Celtic Reptile & Amphibian, aims to reintroduce the lost species of reptile and amphibian that once inhabited Britain, back to rewilding projects.[71] These include the moor frog, European tree frog, agile frog and European pond turtle.[72]They have already had significant success breeding the moor frog in captivity.[73][74] The organisation also wants to see European pond turtles re-established within wetland restoration projects.[75]

The large blue butterfly has been successfully re-established from Swedish stock at several sites, but very few of these are open-access. There are also several successful cases of the establishment of new populations of heath fritillary.

There have been calls for the reintroduction of the Eurasian lynx, brown bear and grey wolf to the UK, because no large predators are living in viable populations in Great Britain. It is theorized that a large predators presence could create a trophic cascade,[76] thus improving the ecosystem.[77]

There are plans to reintroduce European bison into England in Spring 2022. The initial reintroduction would consist of one male and three females being released into a 150-hectare area with no accessible footpaths.[78]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]