Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Proposals to water down protections for UK mammals criticised

  • Written by  Emily Baynes
  • Published in Wildlife
Proposals to water down protections for UK mammals criticised
20 Jul
Government proposals to change conservation legislation could see vulnerable mammals go unprotected

British wildlife charity, the Mammal Society, is calling for greater protection for the nation’s wild mammals in light of proposed revisions to legislation. Changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act would see legal protection extended only to mammals deemed ‘Critically Endangered’. The Mammal Society argues that British mammals should be afforded the same protection as birds, all of which are protected from deliberate killing, injury and disturbance whilst breeding in Britain.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

According to the Mammal Society, one in four of the UK’s 48 native land animals are deemed ‘Threatened’, meaning they are classified as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Threats to British mammals include direct persecution, accidental killing and loss of habitat through rural development or intensive agricultural management. These factors leave some of Britain’s most-prized wildlife at risk including as the beaver, hedgehog and red squirrel. Hedgehogs are faring particularly badly. Their population in England, Wales and Scotland is estimated at one million, in comparison to 30 million in the 1950s. 

shutterstock 270805343According to proposed revisions to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, red squirrels would not be afforded protection in the UK

In May 2021, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the Government’s conservation advisory body, shared details of proposed changes to schedule 5 and 7 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. Among other things, the changes would mean that only mammal species classed as Critically Endangered on the GB IUCN Red List – such as wildcats and greater mouse-eared bats – would be automatically eligible for protection. Although ‘Endangered’ species can still be proposed for consideration, lower categories ('Vulnerable and 'Near Threatened') would no longer be eligible. This would include mountain hares, red squirrels and hedgehogs.

In response to these proposals, Dr Stephanie Wray, Mammal Society chair, said: 'The government is chipping away at legislation which is over 40 years old and is no longer fit for purpose. To limit legal protection to those species on the very brink of extinction seems at odds with the Government’s own stated agenda set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.'

shutterstock 188011358The greater mouse-eared bat is labelled 'Critically Endangered' on the GB IUCN Red List

The Society says it has ‘significant reservations about placing such reliance on Red List status’. In a statement, it argues that Red Lists are not designed to be used in the way the Government is proposing, pointing to the fact that ‘the IUCN explicitly states that Red Lists are not designed to detect longer-term more gradual changes, which can be of equally serious conservation concern.’ Its concern is that animals that could be at risk of extinction will fall through the gaps. 

The Society is calling for new legislation to tackle conservation at the population or ecosystem level, rather than just protecting individual animals of specific species. One option would be to offer mammals the same level of protection as birds which are all protected from deliberate killing, injury and disturbance whilst breeding in the UK. This could prevent all species of threatened mammals from reaching critically low populations, rather than offering a last line of defence from imminent extinction.

Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

Related items

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

geo line break v3


DurhamBath Spa600x200 Greenwich Aberystwythherts




Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...


Australia has the highest per-capita use of rooftop solar power…


Ecoacoustics – a way to listen in closely to the…


Ash dieback is set to transform the British landscape. Robert…


Photographer Patrick Wack documents documents changes in the Chinese province 


A growing tide of legal action is increasing pressure on…


Classifying a group of organisms as a separate species has…


Artist Sarah Gillespie used the historic mezzotint technique for her…


The winners of the 2021 competition of Earth Photo have…


As climate change dysregulates weather patterns, cases of pest explosions…


Arctic nations are gearing up to exploit the region’s abundant natural…


Combining solar farms with biodiversity-boosting plants could result in a…


Steps to regulate fisheries and protect marine reserves can be…


Government proposals to change conservation legislation could see vulnerable mammals…


New research confirms that sharks navigate using the Earth's magnetic…


The field of bioremediation involves cleaning up toxic waste products…


A new analysis tots up the cost of invasive species…


It’s surprisingly difficult to know why trees die, but understanding…


By the late 1980s, almost all mature specimens of the…