otter

Britain’s most elusive creatures

Several newspapers were today featuring articles based on a survey of 2000 people on what wildlife they had seen. The survey was carried out for a new David Attenborough series, called Natural Curiosities. I haven’t been able to find a full report of the survey results, so am having to go from the press coverage. The results are a mixture of surprising and expected.otter

The focus of a lot of the coverage has been the ‘top ten most seldom seen creatures':

  • Nightjar, seen by only 4% of respondents
  • Pine marten – 5%
  • Golden eagle – 9%
  • Stoats and weasels – 16%
  • Otters – 17%
  • Cuckoo – 22%
  • Slow worm – 25%
  • Adder – 29%
  • Raven – 30%
  • Kingfisher – 34%

Some of these I’m not at all surprised by. The top three are all rare, restricted in range to only a small part of the country, and in the case of pine martens and nightjars, hard to spot.

Others are a bit more puzzling. Take stoats and weasels. (I find it quite endearing that they’ve chosen to count this as a kind of composite species, like in Wind in the Willows).¬† These are not rare in Britain, with several hundred thousand of each species, and they can be found all over mainland Britain. They are nocturnal, but certainly not unusual. My glimpses of them have so far been mustelid shapes darting across country lanes.

What’s also interesting is the species that aren’t in the top ten. I find it very hard to believe that more people (34% apparently) have seen dormice than slow worms or adders. The two reptile species are spread much more widely across the country than the hazel dormouse, which is now almost exclusively found in the south. Both reptiles can be (almost literally) stumbled across when walking in the countryside or pottering in the garden. Whereas dormice are nocturnal creatures who live in trees – unless you’re actively looking for them, you’re unlikely ever to see one, even if you live in a wood (unless your cat is good at jumping). I can’t help suspecting that maybe some of the people who reported having seen dormice had actually seen other rodents, and didn’t really know what a dormouse looked like.

I’m a bit surprised wildcat isn’t somewhere near the top, although perhaps they didn’t ask about that.

More generally, some of our more common species had been seen by relatively few people. Only 39% had seen badgers, for example. Perhaps we, as a nation, just don’t spend much time in places where we’re likely to see wild animals.

I’ve seen 6 of the 10 on the list. In terms of my British Animal Challenge, it confirms that pine martens and otters are going to be a challenge. Luckily I’ve seen the other animals that come in the top ten.

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