Native English Animals
Many centuries ago; Bears, wolves, lynx, ect, ranged the forests and woodlands. Also wild boar, Elk and Aurochs (wild bulls) were plentiful. However although some of these species hung on till medieval times, most of these animals were long gone by that time.
The last English wolf in England was probably killed and the population extinct by the 16th century, although in Wales it is thought to have lasted a few centuries longer. Wild Boar died out by the 18th century, probably due to being killed for meat at feasts. Wild boar meat has often been a speciality. The great Auroch herds did not least nearly as long and were sadly gone as early as the 9th Century, although on the continent it lasted for many, many more centuries.
There was an even bigger size herding animal in Britain in the early centuries. The Giant deer species called Megaloceros, with an antler span of up to 3 meters; was possibly extinct by the time Neolithic man was making wooden stockades. But the antlers were often found, and perhaps used for digging with.
Lynx is thought to have gone by the 10th Century, in England at least. It is thought that the Neolithic settlers mingling with peoples already present or taking over, came from the continent and brought their own animals; cattle, domesticated dogs and cats, pigs and also goats with them and built the wooden stockades to protect them. This introduction of imported animals also probably had a negative effect on the original wild life, after their introduction.
In Saxon England land was cleared from the forest and a large communal area was used for farming, this was divided in to strips called furrows. However by Medieval times the rich landlords had claimed a lot of land and planted hedges to mark their boundaries. This may have meant farming was easier, but for the poor it meant they were beggared and starving, as the loss of their land meant the loss of their livelihoods.
Land by the Thames was taken from the people in medieval times and given over to sheep farmers for the trading of wool, which by then had become an important industry and meant tax for the crown, extremely valuable to Britain’s Economy. However this also left less land for the common people and placed it in the hands of the rich.
So by now most of the original predatory or herding wild animals had been replaced by imports. Thankfully there is now a program that is re-releasing our original, surviving animals back into their own natural habitat. We hope, desperately that this is successful. But with escaped wild cats (Lynx, Jaguar etc) from careless owners, due to changes in law in the 1070’s; this and also flocks of escaped exotic birds and even wild wallabies, all now living in the wild, uncaught, we have to wait and see.
Grateful thanks go to Ladybird books for their Conservation Book. This was an invaluable tool in the writing of this article.
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