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Far, far from home

We hear lots about the great journeys of people in history, but what about the wildlife from faraway lands that now call Britain home? Natasha from Kent Wildlife Trust shines a light on some of the creatures who've found themselves far, far from home.

Did you know that there are around 3,000  types of plants and animals living in Britain that are "non-native"? This means they came from another country, and often got to their new home by accident. Some are well known, but others might surprise you...

Surprise! One Animal you (maybe) thought was native to Britain

Rabbit sitting in the grassThe fast-footed, fluffy wild rabbit is such a common sight that you might be surprised to learn that they were once not here at all. In fact the rabbit is originally from Spain and how they first came to Britain is a bit of a mystery.

Lots of people think the Normans brought them here for food and fur when they invaded Britain in 1066 in a great fleet of ships, led by William the Conqueror. Recently though, archaeologists discovered the bones of a 2,000 year-old rabbit in Norfolk, which might mean that the Romans brought rabbits to Britain even earlier! Either way it's clear they've been hopping about here for a long time.

Ship at sea

Sneaky non-native species

An animal that looks like a carpet of lumpy slime coating seaside boulders, the carpet sea-squirt is perhaps the most inconspicuous and unloved of the animals in this article. It arrived in Britain from Japan around 10 years ago, stuck to ships. It seems that, as well as humans, some of the world’s animals have also explored the seas!

However, everyone is a little less excited about the great journey of the carpet sea-squirt. These strange creatures join together to form 'carpets' that cover large areas of the sea-bed and threaten the survival of other marine wildlife.

Exotic Animals in Britain

Parakeet hanging upside-down
While some don’t seem too out of place, a few exotic- looking creatures have also made a life for themselves in Britain. If you're like me, you might spend a lot of time gazing out the window at birds. Would you be surprised to see a bright green, red-billed bird staring back at you? Well, if you live in London or the south-east, maybe not, as ring-neck parakeets aren't all that uncommon there!

This brightly coloured parakeet is originally from tropical West Africa and India, but has made chilly Britain its home over the last 40 or so years. There are lots of rumours about how the parakeet first came to live wild here, including being released in the 1960’s by legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, or escaping from a 1950’s exotic film set. But most people think the real story is a little less colourful,
and that they were originally pets that escaped or were released.

Parakeets aren’t the only exotic animals found living in the wild in Britain that were pets first. During the 1990s when the Mutant Ninja Turtles were very popular, lots of people kept terrapins as pets. Several escapes and releases later, red-eared terrapins lurk just below the surface of ponds, lakes and waterways across the country. Like the carpet sea-squirt they aren't very popular because they eat some of our native animals, including fish, frogspawn, and even small water birds. Remember, pets should never be released into the wild on purpose! 

Whilst there are certainly mixed feelings about some of the non-native animals living in the UK, it's clear that there's so much to learn about the wildlife around us. So the next time you see a pair of little eyes staring back at you, maybe dig a bit deeper and find out what amazing stories this creature might just have to tell. 

Image credits: Rabbit - ©John Bridges, Ship - ©Linda Pitkin/2020Vision, Parakeet - ©Neil Philips