It doesn't seem to matter if they have two legs, four legs, loads of legs or no legs at all. Britain's native animals always tend to get a kicking in health checks.
The latest species to face a dim, dodo-like future is the once-chirpy mistle thrush. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says numbers of the spotty breasted, fluffy birds have declined rapidly. The mistle thrush, so named due to their taste for berries, particularly those of the mistletoe plant, are seen in fewer than half the number of gardens they were a decade ago. The thrushes have taken a thrashing.
Researchers are baffled by the drop in breeding pairs but suspect climate change or a lack of flying insects, on which the birds feed, may be responsible.
The poor mistle thrush is just the latest in a long line of creatures struggling to survive in the 21st century. Brash, crash and thoroughly evil American signal crayfish, which are in fact so evil that they eat their own babies, have devastated the natural order in our lakes, ponds and rivers. The lobster-like terminators, which escaped from breeding farms, have laid waste to much of the native population of white claw crayfish and disrupted stocks of iconic British fish like salmon and trout.
To the dwindling ranks of the mistle thrush and the white claw must be added the red squirrel, the dormouse, the skylark, the Duke of Burgundy fritillary and, lest we forget, the blood-letting medicinal leech. On BBC 2’s Winterwatch, presenters Chris Packham, Michaela What’s-Her-Name and the bloke who looks like James May pull very sad faces at this point and speak of “a national wildlife tragedy”.
And it is terrible. But a tragedy? I feel bad for the white claw and intensely moved by the plight of the dormouse. I wish things were different. But I’m not feeling tragedy here.
What, though, if the species under threat was man’s best friend? And what if the breed in question was the one you loved as a child, the one whose floppy ears you whispered your secrets to, the one who stood by you when you were 3ft tall and felt the world would cave in?
What if they killed off your doggy? Imagine a world without Oliver and Blue. Unbearable, isn’t it?
Oliver and Blue, constant companions in my childhood, were our dear English Setters. They were the best dogs ever because they were mine. They are long gone now, tearing around that great kennel in the sky.
But if you had a dog when you were a child then you will know that you can’t help having a lifelong attachment to their breed, or if they were a mongrel, to their likeness. The same must go for cats, but I struggle to see how people can experience the same bond with goldfish or guinea pigs several decades after their passing.
I raise the topic of Oliver and Blue, and therefore English Setters, because there was shock news about this breed of loveable working dogs a year ago. The Kennel Club revealed Setters were facing extinction. Puppy registrations had dropped to well under 300, which meant the breed was officially endangered. In rodent terms, my Setters were dormice.
Paris Hilton was partly to blame. The decline of the Setter came as registrations of Chihuahuas jumped by a quarter, the rise of the midget pet being attributed to stupid people’s fascination with celebrities.
When I saw a picture of Setter posted on the BBC website a few days ago, my heart sank. I couldn’t bring myself to read the headline, let alone the story. This was it, I thought. Finally, the sun had set on the Setter. What was I going to tell my parents? This could finish them off. I plucked up the courage to read the article and it was as if warm sunshine had bathed my soul. The story was headlined: “British native dog breeds stage comeback.”