It would be interesting to know what Beatrix Potter would have made of it. Dozens of exotic species, whose natural habitats range from the lower reaches of the Yangtze River to the steamy canopy of the Amazonian rainforest by way of the arid Australian Outback, are thriving in the temperate climes of the British countryside.
A report published today reveals that scorpions, aardvarks and even wallabies are among the creatures living alongside the UK's traditional fauna of hedgehogs, badgers and squirrels. It is feared that a continued growth in their numbers could contribute to the threat to native animals, through habitat loss and competition for food.
The report's author, Dr Toni Bunnell of the University of Hull, who is an expert in mammal conservation and runs her own hedgehog sanctuary in York, said there is cause for concern. "The report shows that a number of exotic, non-native species currently existing in the wild in the UK are considered to pose a threat to some indigenous species. This threat is expected to manifest itself by leading to a potential loss of these indigenous species," she said.
According to The Eden Wildlife Report, animals such as wild boar have grown prolifically in number in the South-east of England after escaping from their enclosures during the great storm of 1987. It is now estimated there are 900 living in woodland between Kent and Dorset.
The most common exotic creature is the ring-necked parakeet, which is originally from south Asia and Africa but now has a British population of up to 50,000. The bird is a commonplace sight from the Surrey commuter belt – where it began breeding in the 1970s – to Wales and Scotland, where it is in competition with woodpeckers and starlings. Some species have been here for many years. A colony of 13,000 poisonous yellow-tailed scorpions has been established in a brick wall at Sheerness, Kent since arriving aboard ships carrying Italian masonry in 1860; but others are more recent.
The Siberian chipmunk, one of the EU's 100 most invasive species, is thought to have arrived via the Channel Tunnel and now has a population of 1,000, mainly in the South-east. It is also estimated that there are 10 raccoon dogs which escaped from fur factories and are now in competition with foxes and badgers for food. Some 20 snapping turtles found in British ponds and streams, meanwhile, are believed to be descendants of pets abandoned by their owners.