Wednesday, 21 November 2012

A quick stuffed look at British wildlife

I have confidence in the country's museums, that on finding a gap in it taxidermy exhibitions, it no longer dispatches a hitman out into the wild to bag the absentee. I would like to think that the exhibits shown here are either old or come into the museums hand in some ethical manner. This little lot are to be found in the McManus art gallery and museum in Dundee.

First up is the red squirrel (this particular chum was donated to the museum way back in 1972). The plight of the red squirrel has become rather desperate since the introduction of the grey squirrel (a native of North East America) into the country in 1874. 2008 figures from the BBC website put the UK population of grey squirrels at 2.77 million while the reds are only 211000. Scotland fare better since better, having most of the countries reds (121000) but still more greys (200000). A great deal of effort is being taken to try and stem the spread of the grey squirrel and save the red but only last year an article in the Guardian suggested the red squirrel may be gone in 20 years.

Behind the squirrel is a Scottish Wildcat, once found all over Britain but now contained to the Scottish Highlands. They are genuine indigenous wild animals of the country, having been here for thousands of years, and not domestic cats gone feral. I certainly wouldn't recommend you try to test this by risking your hands in some friendly contact.

This is a goldcrest. I once saw one sitting on a railing of an oil rig in the North Sea. They are occasionally migratory so it's not completely unexpected. Oil rigs are not their natural habitats and I would much rather have seen one sitting in a tree on one of my wanders - time enough yet.

A long eared owl, to be found in most of the country at any time of the year, if you're very lucky.

Pine martins are mainly to be found up in the Highlands, but after being thought extinct in England and Wales  they are starting to reappear there too.

This wee bruiser is a bullfinch. Easy enough to see at the edges of woodlands and hedgerows.

The black grouse can be found in much of Scotland and Northern England. In 2005 there were about 5000 displaying males (I expect they're easier to count) in the country, a drop from 25000 in 1970.

I'm not good on identifying birds of prey - down here in Galloway we've a great pile of buzzards and an increasing red kite population which I can identify without any problem but when it comes down to the smaller birds of prey you see sitting on branches or hovering over fields, I really am rather clueless - they're just a hawk to me. Here in the museum, things have labels, so I can say with confidence, that this is a merlin, Britain's smallest bird of prey.

The bird in the foreground is a wheatear - it takes it's name from neither wheat nor ears but from a corruption of it's earlier name whitearse. It's friend behind it is a whinchat.

Here's a stoat. I almost squashed one of these with my car the other night. I only noticed it as it was dashing out from under my wheel - crazy devil!

The dipper - delightful bird to be found in British waterways up and down the country for anyone that cares to go and look.

I've only seen otters once. It was late at night on a remote road in Dumfriesshire. Not just one but a mother and cubs - made my day. It was quite safe from being knocked down, perhaps because I wasn't driving.

The iconic bird of prey of Scotland, the golden eagle. They are mainly to be seen in the Highlands but apparently there are some to be seen down our way and in Cumbria.

The red deer is Britain's largest resident deer. They can often be seen in large numbers while driving around the Highlands and in previous years I've found it can be quite alarming how suddenly one can appear at the edge of the road through Glen Coe at night. 

There were a number of stuffed animals that had once lived in Britain but have long since gone. The beaver disappeared from our shores in the 16th century. In 2002 nine beavers were reintroduced in Ham Fen in Kent. Since then other reintroductions have taken place as well as two releases on private ground in Scotland.

Extinct in Britain by at least the end of the 15th century the wild boar has also been reintroduced into the country.

It's not as long ago as you might think that the wolf became extinct in Britain. Officially the last wolf killed in Britain was killed at Killicrankie by Sir Ewan Cameron in 1688 but there were still reports of wolves in Scotland into the following century. There have been several calls in the last few years for the reintroduction of wolves in order to keep the red deer population down naturally. Farmers are rather taken aback by this as they think a wolf might prefer a sheep or two from time to time instead. I tend to agree and quite like the fact that when I'm wandering about the country, nothing is likely to eat me.

There are even some dafties out there that want these things back. We've been bear free for about a millennium and while death due to bears in North America are not huge, the best way of keeping them at nil in this country is not to have any. Anyway, I get worried enough by fields of cows.

We've been without lynx for about 1000 years too. For a short time in 2002 we did have a wild population of one down here when the local wildlife park's lynx went walk about.

Badgers have been at the centre of something of a controversy in recent months, suspected of spreading TB to cows, the government was planning to bump a load of them off in an attempt to reduce the disease. It'll not make much of a difference to this fellow, who's been in a glass case for 34 years, but I'm sure he's happy that the cull isn't going to go ahead for now.


The Glebe Blog said...

I've almost seen all of these exhibits live at one time in my life Sandy. The beaver in Canada, the lynx and the cat at the Galloway Wildlife Park, the otter on the Penkiln burn and a big sea otter at Powfoot. The golden eagle at Wanlockhead and young Roxy on the Fell of Carleton.
Black Grouse on the Clints of Dromore.
The bear and wolf I've only ever seen as a boy in a travelling circus, but I did hear a wolf's howl on the Grizzly Trail north of Swan Hills in Alberta, Canada.

Gretel said...

They are beautifully presented, but I, like you, would rather see live ones, I think I would expire from happiness if I saw an otter or pine marten. Not to mention a beaver! Sadly I've only ever seen a red squirrel briefly in Belgium.

The Glebe Blog said...

P.S I also saw a Pine Marten once. It was alongside the river in the woods west of New Luce.

Sandy's witterings said...

Jim. On the checklist front, the Galloway Wildlife park comes to my aid too. A pine martin though, so close to home, well that's impressive.

Gretel, I was pretty chuffed seeing my otters. I've seen quite a few red squirrels in my time. I wonder if they have the same problem with greys over on the continent.

Rosie said...

Two of the museums I've worked in over the years have had rather large collections of stuffed and mounted birds and animals, both have been collections started in the 19th century so were of historical interest as well especially of those creatures no longer found in this country. Like you I'd rather see them alive and well and living in their natural habitat. We have the occasional bullfinch in the garden and I've seen red squirrels on the Isle of Wight and on the Lancashire coast at Formby. We saw some Scottish wildcats at Twycross Zoo recently and although they were wonderful animals I'd rather not see them or just see them on television than see them contained in a small enclosure.:)

Michael (Light-In-A-Box) said...

Sandy hello, long time no hear!
That is quite a collection of animals. (my wife would be disgusted & sad if she saw this!)
Speaking of animals, a little bit south of us the wolves are over populating & are pretty hungry. They are actually munching on farmers cattle. Whats worse is the wolves do the killing then the grizzly's are coming for the meal chasing away the wolves. A visious cycle leaving the farmers unhappy!

Cheers M8 : )

Sandy's witterings said...

Rosie, Some animals aren't really suited to zoos - I think they are becomeing much more thoughful about what they keep in recent years though.

Michael - I don't see why a wolf should turn down a cow in preference to a deer. Grizzlys! Take care out there.

Poppy (aka Val) said...

There is a museum similar to this quite near us, I have to be honest, I would rather see them alive too! Good photos :)

Shundo said...

Reminds me of the Horniman museum near where I used to live in London, which I think would keep you entertained for many an hour if you were down that way - and apparently they have a very nice extension these days as well.
I did clock at least one lynx down in the California mountains a couple of months ago, possibly another, though it was a very brief glimpse, and we had golden eagles as well, which I had never seen there before.