List of extinct animals of the British Isles
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This is a list of extinct animals of the British Isles. Only a small number of these 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.
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, 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 an assemblage characterised by Woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenial). 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.
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; and many of the early dates are very approximate, since caves in Britain were often excavated before modern archaeological stratifications and dating techniques.
† - 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.
|Common Name||Species||Order and Family||Extinction Date||Notes and References|
|†Straight-tusked elephant||Palaeoloxodon antiquus||Proboscidea: Elephantidae||c. 115,000 BP||Late Pleistocene |
|†Woolly mammoth||Mammuthus primigenius||Proboscidea: Elephantidae||c. 14,500-14,000 BP|||
|Barbary macaque||Macaca sylvanus||Primates: Cercopithecidae||c. 130,000 BP|||
|†Neanderthal||Homo neanderthalensis||Primates: Hominidae||c. 50,000 BP|||
|Eurasian beaver||Castor fiber||Rodentia: Castoridae||A.D. 1526||reintroduced to Britain; never lived in Ireland|
|Arctic lemming||Dicrostonyx torquatus||Rodentia||c. 10,000 BP|||
|Steppe lemming||Lagurus lagurus||Rodentia||c. 8000 B.C|
|*Coypu||Myocastor coypus||Rodentia||A.D. 1978||Modern, introduced non-native|
|*Musk rat||Ondatra zibethicus||Rodentia||1937||non-native |
|Narrow-headed vole||Microtus gregalis||Rodentia||c. 8000 B.C.|
|Root vole||Microtus oeconomus||Rodentia||c. 1500 B.C.|
|Steppe pika||Ochotona pusilla||Lagomorpha||c. 8000 B.C.|
|†Cave hyena||Crocuta crocuta spelaea||Carnivora||c. 32,000 BP|||
|Arctic fox||Vulpes lagopus||Carnivora||c. 10,000 BP|||
|†Cave bear||Ursus spelaeus||Carnivora||c. 18,000 B.C.|
|†Cave lion||Panthera spelaea||Carnivora||c. 32,000 BP|||
|Eurasian brown bear||Ursus arctos arctos||Carnivora||c. AD 1000||c. 1000–500 BC in Ireland|
|Polar bear||Ursus maritimus||Carnivora||c. 18,000 BP|||
|Eurasian lynx||Lynx lynx||Carnivora||c. A.D. 400|
|Eurasian wolf||Canis lupus lupus||Carnivora||AD 1786||1166 Wales, 1390 England, 1680 Scotland, 1786 Ireland |
|†European Ice Age leopard||Panthera pardus spelaea||Carnivora||c. 24,000 B.C.||Leopard-like creatures have been reported|
|†Scimitar-toothed cat||Homotherium latidens||Carnivora||c. 26,000 B.C.|||
|Wolverine||Gulo gulo||Carnivora||c. 6000 B.C.|
|Walrus||Odobenus rosmarus||Carnivora||c. 1000 B.C.||occasional visitor |
|†Narrow-nosed rhinoceros||Stephanorhinus hemiotoechus||Perissodactyla||c. 12,000 B.C|
|†Tarpan||Equus ferus ferus||Perissodactyla||c. 7000 B.C.||re-established proxy |
|†European wild ass||Equus hemionus hydruntinus||Perissodactyla||c. 300,000 B.C.|
|†Woolly rhinoceros||Coelodonta antiquitatis||Perissodactyla||c. 10,000 B.C.|
|Gray whale||Eschrichtius robustus||Artiodactyla||c. 598 B.C.|
|†European hippopotamus||Hippopotamus antiquus||Artiodactyla||c. 135-114,000 BP||Ipswichian |
|†Irish elk||Megaloceros giganteus||Artiodactyla||c. 6000 B.C.|
|Eurasian elk||Alces alces||Artiodactyla||c. A.D. 1300 |
|Reindeer||Rangifer tarandus||Artiodactyla||c. A.D. 1100 ||reintroduced to Britain|
|Saiga antelope||Saiga tatarica||Artiodactyla||c. 10,000 B.C.|
|Muskox||Ovibos moschatus||Artiodactyla||c. unknown|
|†Eurasian aurochs||Bos primigenius primigenius||Artiodactyla||c. 1000 B.C.|
|†Steppe bison||Bison priscus||Artiodactyla||c. unknown|||
|†Bison schoetensacki (sister species of Wisent)||Bison schoetensacki||Artiodactyla||Wisent reintroduction ongoing|
|Wild boar||Sus scrofa||Artiodactyla||c. 1400||reintroduced to Britain|
- Common crane – late medieval period (re-established)
- Dalmatian pelican – c. 1000 B.C.
- Eurasian eagle owl - c. 8000 B.C. (re-established)
- Eurasian spoonbill – 17th century (as a breeding bird) (re-established)
- Fea's petrel – Iron Age
- †Great auk – 1844
- Great bustard – 19th century (reintroduced)
- Kentish plover – 20th century (last breeding record 1979)
- Little egret – late medieval period (re-established)
- Northern goshawk – late 19th century (re-established)
- Osprey – 1916 (re-established)
- Pied avocet – 19th century (re-established)
- Red-backed shrike – 1989 (as a regular breeding bird)
- Western capercaillie – 1780s (reintroduced)
- Western marsh harrier – late 19th century (re-established)
- White stork – 1416 (reintroduced)
- White-tailed eagle – 1916 (reintroduced)
- Wryneck (as a regular breeding bird)
- Agile frog – c. A.D. 1000, possibly 1500
- European tree frog – 1986
- Moor frog – c. A.D. 1000, possibly 1500
- Pool frog – 1999 (reintroduced)
- Aesculapian snake – c. Atlantic period >3000 B.C(escaped populations in London and Snowdonia)
- European pond turtle – ≤ 3000 B.C. (possible escaped colonies established)
- Western green lizard – c. unknown(escaped populations in Bournemouth)
- Agonum sahlbergi (ground beetle) – 1914
- Blue stag beetle – 19th century
- Graphoderus bilineatus (water beetle) – 1906
- Harpalus honestus (ground beetle) – 1905
- Horned dung beetle – 1957
- Ochthebius aeneus (water beetle) – 1913
- Platydema violaceum (tenebrionid) – 1957
- Rhantus aberratus (water beetle) – 1904
- Scybalicus oblongiusculus (ground beetle) – 1926
- Teretrius fabricii (histerid) – 1907
Bees, wasps and ants
- Andrena polita (mining bee) – 1934
- Bombus pomorum, apple bumblebee – 1864
- Bombus cullumanus, Cullum's bumblebee – 1941
- Eucera tuberculata (mining bee) – 1941
- Halictus maculatus (mining bee) – 1930
- Mellinus crabroneus (digger wasp) – c. 1950
- Odynerus reniformis (mason wasp) – 1915
- Odynerus simillimus (mason wasp) – 1905
- Bombus subterraneus, short-haired bumblebee – 1989
Butterflies and moths
General reference: Waring et al., 2009.
- Aporia crataegi, black-veined white – 1925
- Borkhausenia minutella – 1950
- Conformist (moth) –
- Euclemensia woodiella (moth) – 1829
- Flame brocade (moth) – 1919
- Frosted yellow (moth) – 1914
- Gypsy moth – 1907; reappeared 1995
- Isle of Wight wave (moth) – 1931
- Large chequered skipper – c. 1989 (non-native, Channel Islands)
- Large copper – 1865
- Many-lined (moth) – 1875
- Map – c. 1914 (non-native)
- Mazarine blue – 1906
- Orache moth – 1915
- Reed tussock (moth) – 1875
- Scarce black arches (moth) – 1898 (transitory resident)
- Speckled beauty (moth) – 1898
- Union rustic (moth) – 1919
- Viper's bugloss (moth) –1969
Dragonflies and damselflies
- Hydropsyche bulgaromanorum (caddis fly) – 1926
- Hydropsyche exocellata (caddis fly) – 1901
Reintroduction and re-establishment
The white-tailed eagle has been successfully re-established on the western coast of Scotland. Having clung on in parts of Wales, red kites have been successfully re-established in parts of England and Scotland. 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. A few hundred beavers live wild in the Tay river basin, as a result of escapes from a wildlife park. A similar reintroduction trial is being undertaken on the river otter in Devon, England. Also, around the country, beavers have been introduced into fenced reserves for many reasons including flood prevention. In 2016, beavers were recognised as a British native species, and will be protected under law.
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.
In 1998, MAFF, now known as DEFRA released a report concerning the presence of two populations of wild boar living freely in the UK. 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.
Around 20 white storks pass through the UK each year. A colony at the Knepp Wildland in 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.
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.
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, thus improving the ecosystem.
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.
- List of mammals of the British Isles
- Extinct animals from the Isle of Man
- List of extinct animals of Europe
- List of extinct plants of the British Isles
- Introduced species of the British Isles
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