A Scottish wildcat - Britain's own lion
Sleek, beautiful, shy - and extremely aggressive...
I've actually seen one of these - but it was in a specially-built enclosure in St Albans (of all places).
If I could see one in the wild, I would die happy...
Finding no references to Paul Wappat in a recent newspaper article headlined The Natural Curiosities Report, I instead made a startling discovery - not about him but about me. Namely….that, considering how much wildlife this crowded island still manages to support, I’ve seen shamefully little of it. And this despite the fact that I smugly imagine myself to be an enthusiastic lover of our native flora and fauna.
In all my sixty-five-and-a-bit years, I have only ever knowingly seen two foxes. Two. One was sunning itself on a garage roof in deepest Southampton and the other ran across the road in front of me near Easington Village. Every other fox I’ve seen has been very dead.
I’ve only seen one toad - it hibernated in my garden in Sheffield. Only one single weasel has made itself known to me - by running very sinuously across my path up near Crook. (And, even then, my powers of observation are so limited that it could easily have been a stoat - in which case I apologise to weaseldom.)
I once caught sight of two hares running energetically across a hayfield in Galloway.
I’ve never seen a living badger at all. Not even one. As they’re being culled, I’d better get my wildlife-watching skates on.
The Natural Curiosities Report offered a list of British birds, mammals and snakes which, despite their relative commonness, are reportedly almost never seen by Britain’s urban-living population, me included.
I’d be interested to know which of the creatures in the list’s Top Ten (er, actually Top Eleven) you’ve seen; where did you see it and when?
At Number Ten…
The Kingfisher…I was lucky enough to see quite a few of these on the many canal holidays I took when I was younger. The extraordinarily exotic iridescent flash of turquoise and orange is never, ever forgotten, once seen.
There are thought to be 2,000 and more breeding pairs in Britain (including many here in the north-east) and yet just 34% of us claim to have seen one.
At Number Nine…
The Raven…The only ravens I’ve ever seen are those in the Tower of London - and they’ve had their wings clipped and don’t count.
Incredibly, there are about 7,400 breeding pairs of ravens in Britain; only 30% of us have ever seen one, though. Are there any round here?
At Number Eight…
The AdderIn Blue Bus days, we had a regular contributor called John Grundy, who was something of an expert on adders and promised to take me on an ‘adder walk’ on the heaths of north-west Durham. For reasons I can’t quite remember, we never got round to it - a fact I regret very much indeed.
So John - if you’re there….
Nobody seems to know how many adders there are in Britain but only 29% of us claim to have seen one.
At Number Seven…
The Slow-WormAgain, nobody seems to know how many slow-worms there are in Britain; only 25% of the population have seen one.
So...John Grundy - if you’re there…
At Number Six…
The CuckooMore than 16,000 pairs migrate to our island every year and yet, although quite commonly heard in some areas, they’re very seldom seen. I am among the 78% of people who’ve never caught even a fleeting glimpse of one.
At Number Five…
The OtterOtters have made a newsworthily spectacular comeback in recent years; there are thought to be about 10,000 of them in Britain now, and there have been dozens of well-reported sightings here in the north-east, even on the edge of urban Tyneside.
But not by me. I stubbornly remain one of the 83% of people who have never seen one.
At joint Number Four…
The WeaselI’m not sharp-eyed enough to know if what I saw near Crook was a weasel or a stoat (see above) but - whichever - I can count myself lucky. Only 16% of us claim ever to have seen one, even though there are about 450,000 of them scurrying over the landscape.
Also at Number Four…
The StoatUnbelievably, there are even more stoats than weasels snuffling through the undergrowth - about 462,000 of them. It’s unbelievable because 94% of us have never, ever seen one. (Or we have, and thought it was weasel!)
At Number Three…
The Golden EagleI seem to remember being told that there was a nesting pair of golden eagles somewhere in the Lake District but I’m fairly certain that this wonderful creature - as exotic and as unlikely as the kingfisher - is now confined to Scotland, where there are thought to be over 400 pairs.
9% of people claim to have seen one; I wish I was amongst them.
At Number Two…
The Pine MartenI reckon we’re almost back in stoat/weasel territory with this one, except that there are far fewer of them - only about 3,300. Which is perhaps why 95% of us have never caught sight of one.
But...where do you go for the best chance of a sighting? Do they exist locally or is a safari to the forests and mountains of Scotland or Wales necessary?
AND, AT NUMBER ONE...
The NightjarThey nest on the ground amongst bracken and forest scraps, they feed on moths and other flying insects, they are active only at twilight or during the night, they can (uniquely) sink into a torpid state just short of hibernation, and are beautifully camouflaged for the crepuscular world they inhabit.
Which latter could be why, despite their being over 4,600 pairs in Britain, over 96% of us have never seen one.
The nightjar is the least-commonly sighted native wild animal in Britain.
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Please get back to me if you can throw any light (as it were) on any of the animals in this curious list - specially if you’ve seen one or more of them and can suggest an outing for me so that I can see one, too.
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