Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Most of Britain's native mammalian carnivores are rebounding, according to a new study.
Populations of badgers, foxes, otters, pine martens, polecats, stoats and weasels are all growing. Only wildcats continue to struggle.
Hunting, trapping, pollution and habitat destruction shrunk carnivore numbers across Britain during the 1900s and the first half of the 20th century. Most of the threats facing Britain's carnivores have been stopped or reduced. As a result, the mammals have made a comeback.
"Unlike most carnivores across the world, which are declining rapidly, British carnivores declined to their low points decades ago and are now bouncing back," Katie Sainsbury, an environmental scientist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. "Carnivores have recovered in a way that would have seemed incredibly unlikely in the 1970s, when extinction of some species looked like a real possibility."
Sainsbury and her research partners compiled the results of surveys documenting the health of local populations of badgers, foxes, otters, pine martens, polecats, stoats and weasels. The surveys revealed evidence of growing numbers and expanding ranges for badgers, foxes, otters, pine martens and polecats.
Though there is no evidence of decline among stoats and weasels, accurate population numbers are difficult to come by.
"These small and fast-moving predators are hard to see and to survey," said Robbie McDonald, wildlife scientist and Exeter professor. "Ironically, the best means of monitoring them is from the records of gamekeepers who trap them. People are key to carnivore recovery."
Only foxes have suffered a setback. Over the past decade, fox numbers are once again shrinking after several decades of recovery. Researchers estimate declining rabbit numbers are to blame.
Researchers shared the results of their research in the journal Mammal Review.
"Most of these animals declined in the 19th century, but they are coming back as a result of legal protection, conservation, removal of pollutants and restoration of habitats," McDonald said. "The recovery of predatory mammals in Britain shows what happens when you reduce the threats that animals face. For the most part these species have recovered by themselves."
As carnivore numbers increase, conservationists and wildlife officials will have to contend with how to manage their interactions with and effects on humans, especially gamekeepers, farmers and anglers.