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The Mission to Bring UK Animals Back From Extinction

Ellie Chivers explores plans to reintroduce lost species to Britain, including lynx and wolves.

Photo by Manohar Manu

Since 2015, the charity Rewilding Britain has been on a mission to reverse the effects of Britain’s extinction crisis. By restoring ecosystems to liveable states, overturning the loss of biodiversity on land and at sea, and rejuvenating people’s love for nature, they hope to see the reintroduction of extinct species to our habitats.

In addition to this, a recent article from the Woodland Trust – alongside their Osprey Cam, following the life of the birds reintroduced to Britain in 1996 – has raised questions about which extinct animals we are most likely to see back on our land.

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Can Animals Be Reintroduced to the UK? 

Yes –the aforementioned Ospreys revisited Britain in 1996, having been deemed extinct in England for 150 years prior due to systemic persecution and low breeding numbers. However, a population began to grow at Rutland Water, and then spread to Wales. Now, the UK is home to over 300 breeding pairs. 

It was only last year that Sea Eagles made their return to England after the species were brought back to Scotland in the ‘70s. These giant birds were reintroduced in the Isle of Wight, some 240 years after the last recorded sightings in England. Six Sea Eagles will be released on the island each year, with the hope that they will begin breeding sometime after 2024. The breed is now the largest bird species in the UK. 

What Other Animals Can We Expect to See Reintroduced?

Britain has played host to a number of surprising animals throughout its lifetime – from Brown Bears to Dalmatian Pelicans, Grey Whales to Common Tree Frogs. But will we ever see any of these animals back on our shores? Perhaps. 

Here are just a few animals we may see back in the UK sooner than you think…

  • Lynx – Evidence suggests that Eurasian Lynx roamed British soil around 1300 years ago. Plans to reintroduce Lynx to Northern England and the Scottish Borders materialised in 2018, but were subsequently rejected. It is thought Lynx could help naturally control the UK’s deer population, limiting the negative impact deer have on woodland areas. Paul O’Donoghue – wildlife biologist and chief scientific advisor to the Lynx UK Trust – believes a Lynx population will also drive tourism in Northumberland, where the cats are hoped to be reintroduced: “It will be the number one tourist destination in Britain by an absolute mile.”

  • Wolves – Also with the aiming of remedying the deer population issue, there are plans to reintroduce Wolves to the Scottish Highlands. Wolves are thought to have disappeared from our shores in the 1700s, but according to Rewilding Britain, there’s no ecological reason why the species can’t live in the UK, having been reintegrated in many European countries already. That being said, reintroduction would have to take place with full consent from the public and a new way of managing livestock. Paul Lister, owner of Alladale Wilderness Reserve, hopes to kick-start the reintroduction of Wolves in Scotland with two packs across 50,000 acres of land.

  • Bison – Bison were last seen on UK land 15,000 to 25,000 years ago, but it may not be long before we see them here again. In July this year, it was announced that the species will be reintroduced to Kent in 2022, with one male and two females being set free initially. While European Bison are not native to Britain, they have been successfully introduced elsewhere, including Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. 

How Will Species Be Reintroduced? 

While it might be difficult to imagine wolves roaming our woodlands, Rewilding Britain are hoping to make this vision a reality sooner than you may think. They aspire to achieve their aims through four key principles: 

  1. “People, communities and livelihoods are at the heart of rewilding.”

  2. “Natural processes should drive outcomes in rewilding areas” 

  3. “Rewilding needs to work at a sufficient scale to allow nature to be the driver of change.” 

  4. “Rewilding is for the long term – an opportunity to leave a positive legacy for future generations.” 

With these principles at the heart of reintroduction and rewilding, it may not be long before we see some of the UK’s long extinct animals back home.

You may also like: Escaping Extinction: New Hope for Northern White Rhinos

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