Wildlife In Focus | 10 Mammals You Might Spot In Scotland

David Coultham

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Here are 10 mammals that you might be able to spot if you visit Scotland. Plus a bonus mammal that was previously extinct in the U.K., but has now been reintroduced.

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Video | 10 Mammals You Might Spot In Scotland

Red Squirrel

Scotland is the last remaining stronghold for the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)remaining in the U.K. It is thought that this is due to there being isolated pockets of natural woodland environments that have not (yet) been infiltrated by the non-native & invasive Grey Squirrels. Grey Squirrels carry a disease that is deadly to the native Red Squirrel. The Reds do have an unusual ally though, and that is the Pine Marten! The Grey Squirrel has not evolved to recognize the Pine Marten as being a threat, and therefore they fall prey to this predator more frequently than the Reds! If you want to learn more about the Red Squirrel, check out our Complete Guide On The Red Squirrel.

Eurasian Otter

Eurasian Otters (Lutra lutra) are one of the UK success stories as their populations have soared from the brink of extinction now that they are protected from human persecution. They are an elusive species to see in the wild due to their huge territories, and whilst you can see them across the U.K. there is something very satisfying about observing them in Scotland where the animals’ environment is less human! You can learn more about the Eurasian Otter in our Complete Guide To The Eurasian Otter.

Hedgehog

Whilst the Eurasian Otter is a success story, the Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is the polar opposite. Numbers have declined rapidly over the last few decades! The rhetoric persists amongst landowners that this is due to predation by Foxes and Badgers. But scientific studies have proven that there is little basis for this, as hedgehog numbers have dwindled at the same rate in areas where these predators do not exist2. The reality is that hedgehogs need large tracts of undisturbed (non-humanized) land to flourish. It is mankind that is responsible for the decline of Hedgehogs; through the removal of habitat, the use of pesticides and insecticides, and significant road deaths each year3. Even in Scotland, the story is very similar to the rest of the U.K.; whilst people think of Scotland as being an unspoiled wilderness, the reality is that it is one of the most deforested countries in the whole of Europe1.

So if you do see a Hedgehog in the wild, give them a thought, and if you have one visiting your garden, then maybe put some hedgehog food out for them!

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Mountain Hare

The Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) is the only native hare in Scotland, and, therefore an important species to conserve. They were given full protection in Scotland in March 2021 as they are classed as Near Threatened4.

If you are walking in the Scottish Uplands, then you may well spot one of these fantastic animals. They change their camouflage each year to hide themselves from predators! In summer, they sport a coat of grey-brown so that they are harder to spot amongst the heather moorland. In winter, they change to an almost pure white so that they are disguised amongst the snow!

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Red Fox

From a U.K. conservation standpoint, there appears to be a lack of scientific data supporting Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) population numbers. Set this against the backdrop that whilst fox hunting has been banned in the U.K., the Protection Of Wild Animals Act 2002 appears to provide very little protection from land owners intent on killing these animals for fun and sport. The usual excuses prevail that foxes threaten their livestock, that populations need to be managed to protect bird life, and that hunts now use fake scent trails. But all these excuses are just a smoke-screen of the continued barbaric yearly cycle of killing. Is it any wonder then, that it seems you are now far more likely to see Foxes in urban environments than you are in the countryside?

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Badger

The European Badger (Meles meles) has fared much better than the Fox, the same laws are also in place to protect them in the U.K., but unlike the Fox, they aren’t subject to the hunting fraternity bending the rules in the name of sport. Badgers emerge to forage on a crepuscular and nocturnal basis, your best bet of spotting them is during the early evening. The best time of year is between April and August when they are most active. Your best bet is to go to a dedicated hide to see these fantastic animals. You can learn more about the Badger in our Complete Guide To The European Badger.

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Red Deer

Quite possibly the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) is an animal that many people associate with Scotland. They roam relatively free in the Scottish Highlands and are the easiest of the animals in this list to be able to spot in the wild. Sadly they are under threat, but unusually not specifically from mankind. They are gradually being hybridized by the non-native Japanese Sika Deer. You can learn more about this animal in our Complete Guide To The Red Deer

Wildcat

Hybridization is also the likely fate of the U.K. remaining breed of wild cat; aptly named the Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris). About the same size as a domestic cat, which is what they hybridize with. There are efforts to try and protect the species through protected breeding programs; which will hopefully see this, the most elusive of all the animals in this list endure.

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Pine Marten

When it comes to being elusive, the Pine Marten (Martes martes) is right up there with the Scottish Wildcat! They have dark-brown hair with a very distinctive yellow or white throat patch and are about the size of a small domestic cat. You can find out more about this fantastic animal in our Complete Guide To The Pine Marten.

Roe Deer

The Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) is another truly native deer in the U.K. with records supporting that they have lived in the British Isles for some 10000 years BC. Like their Red Deer Cousins, they are abundant throughout the UK, however once again, there is something very Scottish about seeing them in the Highlands.

Image Credit stock.adobe.com

Beaver

Our eleventh (bonus) animal in this list is the Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber). Once extinct across the U.K. through human persecution, and despite significant resistance over the years, the Eurasian Beaver is gradually being reintroduced. Beavers are known as ecosystem engineers as they create wetland habitats that support other species. The reintroduction programs have proven this to be the case, with an increase in another endangered species; the water vole6.

Image Credit stock.adobe.com


References

  1. State of Nature Scotland Report https://www.nature.scot/sites/default/files/2019-10/State-of-nature-Report-2019-Scotland-full-report.pdf
  2. Warwick, H. (2014). Should we cull our badgers to save our hedgehogs? Ecologist, 24 April. https://theecologist.org/2014/apr/24/should-we-cull-our-badgers-save-our-hedgehogs
  3. Wembridge, D.E., Newman, M.R., Bright, P.W. & Morris, P.A. (2016). An estimate of the annual number of hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) road casualties in Great Britain. Mammal Communications 2: 8-14.
  4. UK Red List of Mammal Species
  5. Protection of Wild Mammals Act 2002
  6. Puttock, A., Newman, M., Graham, H., Elliott, M., Chant, J., Auster, R.E., Brazier, R.E. (2023) Positive coexistence of water voles and beaver: water vole expansion in a beaver engineered wetland. Mammal Communications 9: 7-15 DOI: 10.59922/GONL2514
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