Endangered Species of Britain

Inktober 2020 illustrations by Dario Fisher (part 1)

This year, I’ve decided to deviate from the usual Inktober prompts, and instead create my own list of 31 subjects for the month. For those unfamiliar with it, Inktober is a scheme originally devised in 2010 by illustrator Jake Parker, which aims to get people to make a habit of drawing. An official prompt is published for each day of October, and people worldwide are encouraged to share their creations on social media, connected by the daily prompt hashtag. 

I saw Inktober this year as a good opportunity to practice using Procreate for iPad to create artworks to a deadline. I’ve always had a fond admiration for 1940s matchbook cover and stamp illustrations and was keen to try to emulate the rough and ready, simplified compositions and limited colour palette that makes them so appealing. The subject I have chosen is one that has become more pertinent of late, and I feel the need to create illustrations for more than just aesthetic purposes, so I drew up my own list raising awareness of some of the endangered species of Britain.

Hawfinch illustration by Dario Fisher
Dormouse illustration by Dario Fisher

During ‘lockdown’, as a nation we all learned to open our eyes to the natural habitat around us, and see things we would likely have never noticed without the time and space afforded to us during these early days of the pandemic. I saw more species than ever before; great crested newts, badgers, stag beetles, glow worms, hares and deer, right outside my home in Cambridge. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that spotting a visiting hedgehog or a tortoiseshell butterfly in your garden is a much less common privilege in 2020. Since 1950, the numbers of hedgehogs have crashed by 95%.


Sadly, Britain – proudly nature-loving and at the forefront of environmental concern, has a rapidly growing ‘red list’ of endangered native species. ‘Biodiversity’ is a buzz-word that is quickly becoming more mainstream; ‘the variety and variability of life on earth’. We all remember food chain diagrams from school, so it’s easy to understand why when whole species are wiped out, the knock-on effects can be devastating. But why has this happened? Urbanisation, agriculture, pollution, and climate change have caused the nations plants and animals to dwindle. 241 species of mammals, plants, and birds have gone extinct in England in the last 200 years.

Orca illustration by Dario Fisher
Scotland’s west coast is home to the UK’s only resident orca population, a group of eight individuals that scientists now believe is doomed to extinction. The pod has not produced a single new calf in nearly 30 years and lost a key female, Lulu, in 2016 who was washed onto the Isle of Tiree after getting entangled in a fishing rope. Following post mortem it was commented she was ‘the most contaminated animal on the planet’ due to high levels of toxic PCBs in her body. Although banned in banned in the UK in 1981 and across the European Union in 1987, PCBs found in the marine mammals stopped falling from about 2000, indicating that some PCBs are still steadily leaking into the environment.

It may be true that most of the UK hasn’t been built on, but really there is no true wilderness left in the British countryside, not least in comparison to the vast areas of wilderness found in places like Alaska, Canada, or Antarctica. This is largely because of agriculture, and heavily managed landscapes that we call ‘Areas of outstanding natural beauty’ like the Lake and Peak District, the Cairngorms, Snowdonia, and many other national parks. Their sweeping landscapes of rolling hills, deep lakes, and bare mountain vistas populated with quietly grazing livestock might make a beautiful picture postcard of Britain, but it has come at the expense of so many native species that have died, or moved on due to the loss of diverse habitat.

Curlew illustration by Dario Fisher
The RSPB believe the curlew should now be considered the UK’s highest conservation priority bird species and a recovery programme is urgently required. Curlews have seen a sharp decline in the UK due to long-term changes in countryside management, where — in addition to predation — eggs and chicks can be destroyed by farm equipment.
Great crested newt illustration by Dario Fisher
Most of Britain's original ponds have been destroyed by pollution, or drained and filed in to make way for buildings and farmland. This has meant that the great crested newt has lost many of its essential breeding sites.

It all sounds very gloomy, and really, it is. But we have to take responsibility and change our relationship with nature. Rewilding projects, such as those at the Knepp Estate in Sussex, which has seen a successful reintroduction of beautiful white storks for the first time in 600 years, may give some hope. The way we use land, the end of intensive livestock farming, and our travel habits, will make a far more positive impact. If we don’t change our ways and educate the next generation to do so, we will almost certainly become an endangered species ourselves.

1 thought on “Endangered Species of Britain”

  1. Mairead Madden

    I love the curlew and the beaver I have very fond memories of birdwatching as a child with my parents in Dublin Bay. I don’t often visit the area of Dollymount Strand but I’d like to hope I’d still see some birds of my childhood there when I visit again.

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