There are no bears in England today, however, there were around 13,000 brown bears that roamed the British woodlands after the end of the last ice age, before becoming extinct from England around 1,500 years ago.
The brown bear is estimated to have gone extinct in Britain some 1,500 years ago in medieval times due to several factors, including overhunting and loss of forest habitat.
To learn more about this once-common predator in Britain, Dr. Hannah O’Regan examined the brown bear using museum archives and records and concluded that bears have been interconnected with the people of Britain for thousands of years, either in the wild or in captivity.
This article explores the brown bear’s fall from dominance to extinction in Britain and the reasons behind it, as well as British efforts to rewild their extinct indigenous wildlife.
Were there ever Bears in England?
Once upon a time, the brown bear was a common apex predator in the British forests, alongside the wolf and lynx. It lived from Devon in the south of England to Sutherland in the north of Scotland and fed on different mammals like deer and bison, as well as plants such as berries, roots, etc.
By the end of the last Ice Age, the bear population started declining and the brown bear became rarer and rarer. There is data of bears that lived at 85 locations in England and Scotland from after the Ice Age (from the Stone Age to the Medieval times).
However, the number of bears was lower in Wales, Scotland, and the East Midlands and higher in Yorkshire, the south, east, and London. The bear numbers continued dropping and were very low in the Iron Age.
According to BBC, there are two potential options. One is that the British native bears went extinct during Middle Ages, some 1,500 years ago, and the other is that they disappeared 3,000 years ago during the Bronze Age.
The first theory was proposed due to evidence found in a Yorkshire Dales cave suggesting that the brown bear went extinct in the medieval era between 425 and 594 AD.
But there is a chance that the Yorkshire cave bears were descendants of the bear brought in the UK from Europe. This is supportive of the other theory that the native bears went extinct much earlier.
Which Bear Species Lived in Britain?
The Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) is a subspecies of brown bear. It’s present in Eurasia and once lived in Britain. It’s also known as the common brown bear.
This bear has fur that’s usually brown, but it can also be yellowish-brown, dark-brown, red-brown, and there are even albino cases. This bear’s fur is thick and can grow up to four inches in length.
This video shows an albino brown bear in the wild:
Albino Brown Bear Spotted In The Wild:
The weight depends on the habitat and the time of the year, but generally speaking, an adult Eurasian male brown bear can weigh between 550 and 660 lb and reach a length of 8.2 feet. The females are smaller with a weight between 330 and 550 lb.
In the wild, their estimated lifespan is 20 to 30 years.
Today, the brown bear is considered an omnivore because it eats a varied diet consisting of meat and plants, as well as fish and different mammals. Brown bears are known for their long and tough claws that they use to dig for food, catch prey, and collect fruits.
In the past, this bear was mostly carnivorous and around 80 percent of its diet came from animal origin. But, with the decline in their habitat, meat consumption reduced and the meat was only 40 percent of their diet until by the late Middle Ages.
Why Are there no Bears in England?
Brown bears lived on the territory of Britain until they went extinct due to over-hunting and loss of habitat. In the distant past, bears actually lived everywhere where there were woodlands or practically, throughout entire Europe. Deforestation and expansion of human habitats drove brown bears to extinction in England and the British Isles.
Another contributing factor to the extinction in this region is hunting. Bears were victims of frequent poaching that brought about their extinction.
Moreover, the building of roads and housing divided brown bears from each other and increased their risk of mortality, and prevented mating. Until the 20th century, bears were imported into Britain, mostly for entertainment.
Bears were widely used for dancing performances and for their body parts. Believe it or not, bear grease was a popular treatment for male hair loss.
Today, the Eurasian bear lives in forests on steep-sloped and rocky regions where humans rarely go.
There have been recent efforts like the Bear Wood near Bristol to re-wild the brown bear in the UK, along with other extinct species.
The Wild Place Project by the Bristol Zoological Society is a multimillion-pound project funded by grants and donations, as well as by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
British forests were once the home to the Eurasian brown bear, but not anymore. Although this species was a top predator at the time, deforestation and human habitation eventually caused its extinction from England.
Due to urbanization, loss of habitat, and over-hunting, the brown bear went extinct some 1,500 years ago. This mighty mammal once roamed the British territory and ate mostly meat before this food source reduced and had to start feeding on plants and fish too.
British people have always been interconnected with bears and recent efforts are being made to bring back the brown bear. One promising project is being conducted by the Wild Place Project and aims to rewild the brown bear and other extinct species in Britain.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.