Following up on our previous piece on the rarest animals of America’s national parks, we thought it was time we took a look at the rarest animals of British national parks too. Although nowhere near as diverse as the American continent, the British Isles are host a to a large number of interesting and endangered species – a few of which you might not expect.
Minke & Humpback Whales (North York Moors)
Humpback whales might not be the first animal you imagine when it comes to the North York Moors, but the coastal areas of this national park are actually perfect for spotting these elusive marine mammals. The coastal towns of Whitby and Staithes host regular marine wildlife tours throughout the Summer season, where visitors can catch a glimpse of up to four different types of whales.
There are only 80,000 or so estimated humpback whales in the wild across the whole globe, so seeing one of these majestic 10-plus-metre long animals off British shores is a rare treat – and one that initiatives like National Parks will hopefully be able to preserve for future generations.
Scottish Wildcats (Cairngorms)
The only wild feline left alive in Great Britain, these two to three-foot-long cat relatives used to roam wild all over the British Isles until about 150 years ago. Today less than 300 of them still exist in the wilderness of the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland – which is also the UK’s largest park by area.
Ongoing efforts to catalogue and conserve these heavily endangered species include forest trail camera monitoring, which caught snaps of a four foot plus wildcat earlier this year. Unable to adapt to human dominated environments as successfully as urban foxes, as well as being prone to interbreeding with feral domestic cats, Scottish wildcats can also be found in Aberdeenshire forests and on the peninsula of Ardnamurchan – which is also the most westerly point of the British Isles.
Sand Lizards (South Downs & New Forest)
One of the UK’s six species of native reptiles (along with the Adder, Slow-worm, Grass snake, Common lizard and Smooth snake) the sand lizard is by far the rarest in the UK. Fairly common across parts of Europe, in the British Isles they now only exist in small patches of the South of England.
These small (maximum just over a foot) lizards lay their eggs in sandy patches of heathland, which gives them their name. A grey sandy colour throughout most of the year, in the hottest months they develop bright green markings – so you can be fairly confident when you spot one. Sand lizards almost went completely extinct in the UK in the 1970s, but a dedicated effort towards their preservation in the 1980s helped them return to the South Downs area. This part of their habitat crosses the counties of East & West Sussex and Hampshire and is the UK’s newest national park having been formed in 2011.