British wildlife charity, the Mammal Society, says proposed revisions to water down animal protection under the Wildlife & Countryside Act should be scrapped and that the nation’s wild mammals should have the same level of legal protection as its birds.

The charity’s comments come after the government’s five-yearly review of the Act, proposals for which were circulated by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to selected stakeholders.

One of the Mammal Society’s main concerns is that under the current proposals, legal protection would only be guaranteed to those animals which have been identified as “Critically Endangered” according to the GB IUCN Red List. Using this rule, any animals classed as “Endangered”, “Vulnerable” and “Near Threatened” – all of which could be at imminent risk of extinction – could slip through the net. This includes familiar and iconic animals such as hedgehogs, mountain hares, red squirrel and pine marten.

One in four of the UK’s 48 native land mammals is Threatened (that is, classified by the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered or Extinct).  Threats to British Mammals are varied and include direct persecution, accidental killing or loss of habitat through development, and intensive agricultural management of the countryside.

Rather than pick out species for special treatment, and allow the decline of most species to continue, the charity has proposed that mammals should be afforded the same level of protection as birds.  All bird species are protected from deliberate killing or injury, and from disturbance whilst breeding, with easily available licensing for exceptions. The same principles, say the Mammal Society, could be adopted for mammals and other wildlife.

Mammal Society Chair, Dr Stephanie Wray, said “The government is chipping away at legislation which is over 40 years old and is no longer fit for purpose.  To limit legal protection to those species on the very brink of extinction seems at odds with the Government’s own stated agenda set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.   We are on the precipice of an ecological disaster and urgent positive action for conservation is needed.  The only way we can ensure that species such as hedgehogs and red squirrels will still be here for our grandchildren to see is to properly address the level of protection afforded to our native wildlife and “level up” how we treat the nations most loved animals.”