Photo credit: Peter G Trimming/Creative Commons
The red squirrel is common throughout Europe but the prospect for the species—and many other small mammals—in England is not good. Pollution, pesticide use, and habitat loss are driving many of the declines. For the red squirrel, the threat comes from competition with the invasive gray squirrel and a rapidly spreading disease that targets the species.
How bad is the problem? A recent survey estimates that the red squirrel could be extinct in England within 20 years.hedgehogs, harvest mice, and Scottish wildcats were also identified as species at risk in spite of conservation efforts to save them.
"The last 15 years have seen some successes, particularly recovery of some rare species," explained Dawn Burnham and David MacDonald, the study's authors, "however, with the ongoing decline of once common species, like hedgehogs, it is widely accepted that targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity, for 2010, were missed."
The study found that the population of red squirrels had declined 50 percent in 50 years. For other species, however, the results were better. Two different horseshoe bat populations were found to have risen 32% and 41% respectively over the past 10 years and overall nearly half of the surveyed species were stable or increasing in population.
The distinction, the authors pointed out, seems to be between those that require conservation at the habitat level and those that respond to more localized initiatives.
"In general," they explained, "progress has been better for species restricted in range that could benefit from targeted, site-based, conservation efforts. There's been less progress on targets for habitats and many widespread species."