Yes these little balls of fluffy joy are disappearing fast. If you see one, don’t eat it.
Like everywhere in the world, indigenous species are getting rezoned into oblivion. Our insistence on letting our cats eat what we don’t accidentally kill ourselves with our car tyres is becoming a problem.
Over the centuries, humans have accidentally let in invading foreign creatures. Such aliens are now monopolising the food, leaving our little indigenous fellas to suffer.
Here are some critters on the watch-list.
These guys are doing it tough. They have plenty of predators who are trying to make them into a snack. For example, every bird of prey on the island wants to maul them and rip them apart and chew their tasty lean meat. But the biggest pain in their furry little butts is us. Firstly, their fur (called sable) used to be insanely valuable, so these little fur balls of cuteness were trapped and killed for their skins. But now that wearing real fur is naff, the harvesting of sable isn’t their biggest problem. But humans are still annoying them: meat poisoned with strychnine that is meant to kill foxes or feral cats also kills pine martens. Thankfully, this horrible practise has been banned, and pine martens are starting to increase their numbers again.
Pine martens look like tree cats, so of course, they are called ‘cat crainn’ (tree cat) in Irish. These guys are rare and mysterious; although many biologists report that there numbers have slowly increased in Co. Clare, south Co. Galway, and parts of Tyrone and Fermanagh. There are also small numbers in the Wicklow Mountains.
Biologists are not 100% sure that the pine marten is a native animal, or whether they were introduced a long time ago because of their gorgeous fur. But they have been around for a hell of a long time in Ireland. Remains of these little fellas have proven to be at least 2780 years old. And, pictures of pine martens can be found in old Irish monastic manuscripts.
Pine martens are now totally protected under the Wildlife Act. So if you see one, try to convince it to stay away from both you, and poisoned meat. And also try to convince it to breed. A lot.
This little guy is also doing it tough. The red squirrel is a rodent. When you hear “rodent” you think of plague-bringing rats, don’t you? Well don’t. Rodents are one of the most successful mammals on the planet. And their ranks are 1700-species strong. More exotic and fancy species of the rodent family include porcupines and capybara. SO this guy is cool…but dying out.
The red squirrel was the first squirrel in Ireland, arriving here pretty much when the trees did. But their populations declined as humans went mental with their axes and started cutting trees down like the earth vandals that we are. Red squirrels are arboreal, they spend almost all of their time in trees. So healthy forests are a must for their survival. Alas. Irishers we are failing them. Ireland has only 8% tree coverage, one of the lowest in Europe. Embarrassing. However a whole shedload of conifers were planted a few decades ago and they are now starting to provide good cover for the little red guy. The nest is a ball of twigs about 30cm across, called a drey.
Biologists think that red squirrels may have become extinct a few times on the island and then reintroduced again several times over. So it is hard to tell if the red squirrel is truly a native. But again, this little dude was here first so he calls himself indigenous. And he certainly doesn’t like that stupid grey American squirrel who is messing up his life. The American Squirrel is thought to have come over on ships from when America was being colonised, they soon thrived in their new environment. It is bigger and stronger than the red squirrel. But it has two way more serious advantages than strength and size. First is that the greys are immune to a virus that kills red squirrels. And secondly, they grey squirrel is able to digest nuts and fruit before they are ripe. So it gets to the food before the red squirrel can even consider it edible.
So if you see a red squirrel, you are lucky, they are fighting for their lives. If you see a grey squirrel, tell it to get back on the ship from whence it came.
The cuteness factor here should be enough to send you screaming into the forest, ready to throw your life down for this little furry ball of enchantment. There are shrews all over the world, but only this little dude is native to Ireland. The pygmy shrew has vanished in some parts of Ireland where other non-native invading species have bulldozed their way in (namely the bank vole and the greater white toothed shrew.) This little dude holds the crown for being Ireland’s smallest mammal. These fellas can weigh up to 6g (a level teaspoon of salt weights 6 grams!) but in the winter they shrink down to 3grams (even their bones shrink). Tiny is not quite the word for it!
These guys CAN live anywhere, from forests to hedgerows, in our garden. They will even have a good crack at living in a bog. These guys are 100% native, arriving here in the ice-age. So if we are drawing our swords to protect any endangered species today, this is your guy.
Shrews unfortunately, hate other shrews. They guard their territory fiercely. If two shrews meet on their morning walk they will bash it out like they are in Fightclub. But in breeding season they calm the hell down because they have to wander quite far to find a female. They eat all the gross thing we hate in our garden, like woodlice, slugs, earwigs and flies. So we should be defending these little dudes with everything we have. And how’s this for a fun fact: adults can’t hear their squeaks, which are very high-pitched…but kids can!
Unfortunately their biggest headache is the domestic cat. A cat will mutilate and kill a shrew, however they won’t eat it because it has a scent that deters it from being palatable. So it is a waste of a kill, really. The pygmy shrew is also on the menu for owls and foxes, and they get a good whacking from modern pesticides too. How could anyone want to kill this furry little ball of warmth and love??
Another problem they have is they only live for about a year and a half, and if they don’t find their own territory soon after being ousted from the nest they die. But the good news is that pygmy shrews are totally protected in Ireland. The bad news is that they are still in decline.
Other creatures of interest that are on the endangered list:
-The viviparous lizard is the only terrestrial reptile native to Ireland. Its habitat is evaporating fast.
-The tiny wood mouse has suffered tremendously in recent years as a result of invasive species.
-Other species include: Barbastelle, Black-tailed Godwit, Corncrake, Eurasian Curlew, and the Eurasian Otter. -Natterjack toad, common scoter, Hen harrier, Grey partridge, Corncrake, Red-necked phalarope, Nightjar, Roseate tern, Corn bunting, Killarney Shad, European Eel, Eskimo Curlew, Blue Skate, Balearic Shearwater and the Angel Shark, Atlantic Stream Crayfish, Broad Sea Fan, Common Smoothhound, Common Thresher Shark, Deepwater Spiny Dogfish, Gillaroo, Haddock, Porbeagle, Shortfin Mako and the Smooth Hammerhead.
Go well, little creatures.