Image for Making a comeback: the ‘lost’ species returning to Britain

Making a comeback: the ‘lost’ species returning to Britain

Some were reintroduced, others mysteriously reappeared. Meet the species that came back from the abyss

Some were reintroduced, others mysteriously reappeared. Meet the species that came back from the abyss

Britain is one of the most nature-depleted nations in the world, and its current government is reluctant to do anything about that. Stepping into this vacuum of leadership are guerrilla rewilders, who are introducing species illegally amid lively debate. Some of these creatures have returned because of their efforts.

Beaver are among the species that came back to Britain

While an official trial brought them back to western Scotland starting in 2009, others mysteriously turned up further east on the River Tay – now widely acknowledged to be the result of unofficial releases. A few years later, beavers appeared on the River Otter in Devon and, despite an initial government plan to remove them, were eventually allowed to stay. The species is now protected in both England and Scotland, although the latter lets landowners kill dozens each year.

Image: Arterra

White-tailed eagle

The white-tailed eagle is the UK’s largest bird of prey, boasting a majestic 2.5m wingspan. It was hunted to extinction in 1780 until birds from Norway were eventually used to reintroduce the species to Scotland. Over the past few years, official releases have also brought it back to the Isle of Wight and other parts of England, where the first eagle chick in 240 years finally fledged this summer.

Image: Michelle Gilders

Wild boar have returned to Britain
Wild boar

While its domesticated relatives are widespread, the wild boar was absent from the British countryside from the 13th century – that is, until a combination of farm escapes and deliberate releases re-established it in the wild starting in the 1970s. These omnivorous ecosystem engineers, who use their big snouts to plough up the soil, can now be found in many parts of the country, from the Forest of Dean to the Highlands of Scotland.

Image: Patrick Pahlke

Black-veined white

More than a dozen of these butterflies, extinct in Britain for 100 years, mysteriously appeared on a nature reserve in Croydon, south London, in June – likely as the result of an illegal release. This striking black and white specimen is only the latest butterfly to have drawn the attention of maverick breeders, who have also spread endangered marsh fritillaries and Glanville fritillaries to new sites around the country.

Image: Dave Collins

Water vole

These small furry rodents are a crucial part of river ecosystems, creating habitat for other species by burrowing into banks and serving as food. In fact, so many other animals like to eat them that voles have been dubbed ‘nature’s chocolate biscuit’. Pollution and habitat loss have also long threatened their numbers, but official releases have now returned them to streams up and down the UK.

Image: David Dunn

Pine marten

A handful of official releases have bolstered the numbers of these elusive tree dwellers, which count the invasive grey squirrel among their preferred prey. They have long been threatened across Britain, but their populations are growing in mid Wales and Gloucestershire. Guerrilla rewilders have likely boosted numbers by releasing them elsewhere – including a woodland in south-west London.

Image: Richard McManus

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