For many people in Britain there are some natural events which are truly British sights. The average Britain may see rabbits on the verge every spring, or perhaps a visiting hedgehog to enjoy some snails, or maybe a flash of brilliant red as a fox darts by. To some these are truly British animals. But how much of that is really true?
Rabbit Orytolagus cuniculus
The rabbit can be found all over the British isles. They are also prolific in old texts and paintings and have been depicted as destructive pests, but also as friendly garden inhabitants. But Whilst the rabbit has lived in Britain for some time. They are not really a British species at all. It was at some point in the 12th century that rabbits were brought to England for meat and fur. Before then rabbits could be found in France & parts of Spain. Once they had escaped from the British farms it didn’t take long for the population to explode. Rabbits reach sexual maturity within a month of being born and are extremely quick to reproduce. Because of these traits they quickly colonised Britain and now occur all over the Island.
Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus
If you ask many British people where in the world do Hedgehogs live many will remark that the hedgehog is a British species, and whilst they have been here for a very long time they also occur over most of the globe. Far from being exclusively British the common hedgehog can be found as far away as Southern Italy and way up into Northern Finland. Hedgehogs resemble some of the early mammals that evolved and hence are found all over the globe and across a range of different habitats. There has been some debate about whether the hedgehog was introduced to Britain hundreds of years ago and is now considered a resident, but this is hard to determine.
Red Fox Vulpes vulpes
Another species that British people are proud to call a British species is the red fox. The red fox has been an extremely successful species due to their adaptability and ability to live so close to human settlements. Urban foxes are a phenomenon showing just how intelligent they are. This adaptability has enabled the red fox to spread far and wide over the globe. The red fox can be found in almost the entirety of the Northern hemisphere. They can be found in Canada, North America, Morocco, Sweden, Russia, India & China. They have also been introduced to Australia and are wrecking havoc on bird populations there. Foxes have been intertwined in British culture for centuries and art likely to leave us anytime soon. But they are clearly not a solely British species.
Are there any British Endemics?
If a British person was looking for an animal that is only found in the UK they would struggle greatly. Due to geography of Britain and how the island has been connected to mainland Europe on and off for so long there are no large species found only on the British Isles. But, there is one endemic vertebrate in Britain. The Scottish crossbill Loxia scotica. The Scottish Crossbill lives in the Scots pines forests and is found nowhere else on Earth. But that doesn’t mean they are our only endemic species. We also have several species of fungi, a few liverworts, flowering plants and a few species of tree.
So the next time you see a unquestionably British species, just remember. If its not the crossbill. Its probably not that British after all.