The British mammals facing total wipe out

Collapse: In 1995 there were 1 million water voles in the UK. Now there are only 132,000.

Should animals have the same rights as humans? A new study claims a fifth of Britain’s wild mammals may be extinct within a decade. With humans largely to blame, some want urgent action.

Hedgehogs, wildcats, red squirrels, black rats, water voles — creatures that have roamed Britain’s woods, thickets and fields for centuries. But in a matter of years, they could all be gone.

That is according to scientists who claim that one in five British mammals are now at “high risk” of extinction.

The most endangered include the Scottish wildcat (only 200 are left in the wild); the once-common black rat; and the greater mouse-eared bat — with only one solitary male left in the whole of the UK.

Red squirrel populations have also been devastated — mostly due to competition with grey squirrels — and the number of hedgehogs has plummeted by 66% since 1995.

Humans are largely at fault, with the report blaming the destruction of habitats for farmland, roads and buildings. Pesticides, invasive species and climate change are factors too.

The findings come after naturalist Chris Packham warned of Britain’s “ecological apocalypse”, describing species destruction as a “national catastrophe”.

Britain’s dwindling wildlife is part of a worldwide emergency. Earlier this year, scientists calculated that 83% of the world’s land mammals have been lost since the dawn of human civilisation — despite humans making up a mere 0.01% of life on Earth.

But now, some are suggesting a radical move that might bring the world’s wildlife back from the brink. What if animals had the same rights as humans?

The notion is not as outlandish as you might think. In 1999, New Zealand granted five great ape species basic “human” rights. This guaranteed their right to life and the right to not be tortured, abused or used in scientific experiments.

And in 2002, Germany became the first EU nation to formally guarantee the rights of animals in its constitution.

Philosopher Peter Singer is convinced animals have “moral status” — meaning that we must “consider their interests, and… not regard those interests as less significant than ours”.

Furthermore, while the intelligence of apes is well known, other mammals like cows have surprisingly rich emotional abilities.

Should animals have rights?


Of course not, some argue. From encouraging wild areas to thrive, to eco-friendly planning regulations: we need practical steps to protect animals. Over-humanising them will achieve nothing. Incapable of moral reasoning or possessing a sense of duty to others, talk of applying “rights” is a fallacy.

Not necessarily, others respond. Many animals are sentient beings with capacity to feel pain and joy — just like people. There is no moral defence for the annihilation we cause them. Recognising the rights of all animals to live is critical for the environment, and the future prosperity of humans too.

You Decide

  1. Are humans more important than animals?
  2. Should animals have rights?


  1. Imagine the United Nations has tasked you with drafting a “Universal Declaration of Animal Rights”. What rights would you include on the declaration? Compare your ideas with your classmates. Are there any main points you all agree on? What differences are there between your ideas?
  2. Pick your favourite British mammal. Do some research to answer the following questions: Is the animal endangered? Is it native to the UK? Are there any particular challenges or difficulties that the species is facing?

Some People Say...

“You shouldn’t say ‘animals’ to distinguish between humans and non-humans. We are all animals.”

Peter Singer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The most populous land mammal in the UK is the field vole, followed by the mole. While 12 species are vulnerable or endangered, some animal numbers have increased in recent years. For example, deer and otter populations have gone up. The badger population has also doubled in the last two decades, in spite of culls to control the outbreak of bovine tuberculosis.
What do we not know?
The best way to tackle the problem. Professor Fiona Mathews argues that more attention should be given to animals living outside of nature reserves. Allowing wild sections of greenery to grow in gardens and urban areas can also help plant and animal species thrive in otherwise difficult environments.

Word Watch

The report was produced by the University of Sussex and The Mammal Society at the request of the government.
High risk
Out of 58 land mammal species, 12 are classed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. These are the hedgehog, red squirrel, beaver, hazel dormouse, Orkney vole, water vole, black rat, wildcat, greater mouse-eared bat, serotine bat, barbastelle bat and the grey long-eared bat.
Invasive species
Animals not native to the UK.
As a proportion of the Earth’s total biomass. According to research by the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Article 20a of German basic law states that, like humans, animals have the right to be respected by the state and to have their dignity protected.
Consider their interests
Singer’s perspective draws on the ethics of utilitarianism. Read the full interview via the link under Become An Expert.
Emotional abilities
Research suggests that cows can distinguish between friends, experience optimism and pessimism, and recognise different humans. Read the Newsweek link for more.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.