More than 70% of small mammals have declined in the UK since 1970 – with weasels now classed as ‘vulnerable to extinction’, experts warn 

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  • Study finds weasels in rapid decline and halved in number in 50 years
  • looked at 37 mammal species and found that weasels were in the fastest decline
  • They need protection and should be declared ‘vulnerable to extinction’ – experts
  • Since 1970, the number of small animals in the UK has declined by more than 70 percent

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Experts warn that weasels are rapidly declining across the UK and they need legal protection to prevent extinction.

Britain’s smallest native carnivore has halved in numbers in the past 50 years and the most rapid population decline of 37 mammals studied by scientists.

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The research also found that more than 70 percent of small mammals have declined since 1970.

There are now fewer holes and burrows, while the greatest decline has been seen in Harvest Mouse numbers.

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Worrying: Weasels are in rapid decline across the UK and need legal protection to keep them from extinction, experts warn

Britain's smallest native carnivore has halved in the past 50 years, according to a study by the Mammal Society, the University of Sussex and the Center for Ecology and Hydrology.  Since 1970, weasel populations have decreased by 4.26 percent (pictured in the graph above).

Britain’s smallest native carnivore has halved in the past 50 years, according to a study by the Mammal Society, the University of Sussex and the Center for Ecology and Hydrology. Since 1970, weasel populations have decreased by 4.26 percent (pictured in the graph above).

Which mammals are in decline across the UK?

sharp fall

  • driver man
  • Harvest Mouse

Downfall

  • bank will
  • common sly
  • field vol
  • Drop of water
  • ruff quadruped

no change

  • wood mouse
  • fellow reindeer
  • Red Deer
  • Roe deer
  • Bechstein’s bat
  • Brandt’s bat
  • brown rabbit
  • brown mouse
  • european mole
  • european rabbit
  • gray squirrel
  • red Fox

Growth

  • yellow neck rat
  • Reeves’ muntjack deer
  • sika deer
  • brown long-eared bat
  • Common Pipistrel Bait
  • dubenton bat
  • Greater Horseshoe Bat
  • gray long eared bat
  • serotonin bait
  • whiskered bat
  • european badger
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Stoats and weasels – classified as ‘medium-sized mammals’ in a study by the Mammal Society, University of Sussex and the Center for Ecology and Hydrology – are also struggling because of a reduction in their prey, which includes rats and voles.

Weasels currently have no legal protection and are often killed by gamekeepers because they eat gamebird chicks.

The destruction caused by farming where they live has also caused enough damage to the numbers that the species should be declared ‘vulnerable to extinction’, the researchers said.

They studied trends in two thirds of UK land mammals from 1970 to 2016.

The experts analyzed nearly half a million records from surveys that included dividing parts of the UK into 1km sections and recording whether the mammals studied were present in each.

In 1971, weasels were found in 50 percent of the classes studied, but this dropped to 20 percent in 2016.

Fiona Matthews, a professor at the University of Sussex and co-author of the study, said: ‘Small mammals are important, and generally abundant, parts of ecosystems.

‘They are tiny engineers that improve the water holding capacity of our landscape, and are important prey for many other species including barn owls, kestrels, stots and weasels.

‘They need it because of the disappearance of tall grass and overgrown areas.’

She continued: ‘All over Europe there is a problem with any species that is a predator.

‘As soon as we encounter something that doesn’t exactly match our human interests, we as the ultimate hunter decide that we can better get rid of it.’

To reverse the decline in numbers, Professor Mathews suggested that weasels need to be licensed before they can be killed.

In order to kill them, gamekeepers must show an ‘overwhelming reason, such as there is another species of serious conservation concern that needs to be protected’.

Dr Stephanie Ray, president of the Mammal Society, said the research was ‘the canary in the coal mine that tells us we need to act now to prevent ecosystem collapse’.

According to the study, bank voles, common cruises, field voles, water shoes and stots are all declining in populations, as well as weasels and harvest rats.

The numbers of red deer, fallow deer, gray squirrels, red foxes and several species of bats have remained unchanged, while European badgers, sika deer and yellow-necked rats are increasing across Britain.

It’s not just in Britain that Weasels are struggling.

These graphs show how the numbers of some species have changed over the past 50 years, including shrews, rats, and weasels

These graphs show how the numbers of some species have changed over the past 50 years, including shrews, rats, and weasels

are now low volts and sly, while the Harvest Mouse (pictured) has seen the biggest drop in numbers

are now low volts and sly, while the Harvest Mouse (pictured) has seen the biggest drop in numbers

Harvest mouse populations have declined by 2.82 percent since 1970, a new study shows

Harvest mouse populations have declined by 2.82 percent since 1970, a new study shows

European badger (pictured), sika deer and yellow-necked rat are on the rise across Britain

European badger (pictured), sika deer and yellow-necked rat are on the rise across Britain

In the US, a study released three months ago found that many species are on the decline in South America, including a species thought to be the world’s smallest carnivore.

Researchers at North Carolina State University said the reason for the population decline was unclear – whether disease, predators, climate change or the use of pesticides and rodents are to blame, or some combination of those factors.

Several states have revised the status of weasels to ‘species of conservation concern’.

The research has been published in the journal biological protection,

What is the status of Earth’s species?

– Two species of vertebrates, animals with backbones, have been extinct every year, on average, since the last century.

At present, about 41 percent of amphibian species and more than a quarter of mammals are at risk of extinction.

There are an estimated 8.7 million plant and animal species on our planet and about 86 percent of land species and 91 percent of marine species are undiscovered.

– Of those we know, 1,204 mammals, 1,469 birds, 1,215 reptiles, 2,100 amphibians, and 2,386 fish species are considered threatened.

In addition, 1,414 insects, 2,187 mollusks, 732 crustaceans, 237 corals, 12,505 plants, 33 mushrooms and six brown algae species are at risk.

– Global…

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