Mammals are one Scotland’s secret kingdoms. We may not see them often, but an abundance of mammals live around us.
We lost the wolf, bear, elk and lynx to hunting long ago, and most of our remaining wild land mammals have learned to come out mainly at night. All of our largest mammals live at sea.
Yet we still have a wealth of mammals, ranging in size from the minuscule pygmy shrew, which weighs about 5g, to the 36,000kg humpback whale. That’s the equivalent of a penny versus more than two double-decker buses.
Scotland is a European stronghold for the otter. Our pine marten population is growing. Badgers are found in surprising numbers, and the previously extinct Eurasian beaver is thriving following its reintroduction.
More than 20 dolphin, whale and porpoise species can be seen in Scottish waters. Most of the harbour and grey seals found in UK waters live off Scotland. About a third of all grey seals in the world live in Scottish waters.
Mammals under pressure
The Scottish wildcat is our most threatened mammal, while the water vole is under threat from the American mink. Squirrelpox and competition from the non-native grey squirrel continue to be the greatest threats to the native red squirrel.
Historically, hunting was the main threat to our land mammals – especially once firearms came to be used for game management. Today, the main pressures on most land mammals are from habitat fragmentation and loss.
Our marine mammals can suffer disturbance, injury and death as a result of human activities that lead to:
- entanglement in fishing nets
- reductions in fish populations
- chemical pollution
- underwater noise