Fiona Mathews & Tim Kendall: Wild Mammals are far from ‘Boar-ing’

Jun 11 2024

Professors Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall - wife and husband - talk about the wild mammals of Britain, and then head into the Forest of Dean to find them!

David Oakes

David Oakes


Fiona Mathews & Tim Kendall


The Interview Half:

The Boaring Half:

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About this episode:

Fiona Mathews is a professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex and the founding Chair of Mammal Conservation Europe; Tim Kendall is a professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Exeter, and; their dog Charlie Brown is an especially trained labrador with the talent for locating the bodies of bats that have been killed or injured by wind turbines, all in the name of conservation science. Together, they wrote the Wainwright award-nominated book “Black Ops & Beaver Bombing: Adventures with Britain’s Wild Mammals”. In this two part interview, hear how Fiona’s construction of the Red List for British Mammals informs our Government and has lead to cutting edge mammal conservation projects. They discuss the British Coypu population that caused concern in the 1980s, the effectiveness of the mysterious “Beaver Bombers” secretly releasing animals across Europe, and the tale of the lone Scottish Pine Marten that ended up in Georgia, USA (a fate subjectively worse than the Beech Marten who got stuck in the Large Hadron Collider!) The trio of Fiona, Tim and David (alas without Charlie Brown) then head into the Forest of Dean to locate the most contentious of Britain’s mammals – the Wild Boar!

David's thoughts:

It’s mentioned very fleetingly by Fiona in the first half of this interview – in relation to the differences in studying mammals as opposed to moths and/or birds (“Birders are nuts though, aren’t they?!” Tim adds.) – but I think it’s worth reiterating: It’s rare to see a wild mammal. Rare, and subsequently wonderful.

We see domesticated mammals all the time – dogs and cats on leads, even a ferret in some ‘idiosyncratic’ parts of East London, horses if you’re in the countryside, the numerous edible or ‘drainable’ varieties of cows, pigs and sheep if you’re near farms… but a sighting of a wild mammal is an increasingly thrilling and rare event. An urban street fox may be the city dweller’s only true semi-regular encounter with a wild mammal (unless that is you have a landlord who hasn’t dealt with an ongoing mouse concern.) And in the countryside, rabbits and deers are probably your only overtly abundant mammalian visitors – both of which tend to frustrate the farmer and forester and ornamental gardener when in significant numbers (which is a great shame if you’d like to see humans further align with animal-kind). Despite all sharing a place in the order of Mammals, most humans view our fellow mammals as a nuisance. But I digress…

…the point I want to make is: When did you last see a mole? A badger? A stoat? An otter? A shrew? A bat? Let alone an endangered pine marten or wild cat. Our encounter’s with wild mammals today are rare. You almost certainly have to go out looking for them at antisocial hours, and even then they’ll undoubtedly offer a mere fleeting visitation (that is unless you have a domesticated feline who likes to hunt for them for you, or are fortunate enough to have a badger sett in your garden.) A moment with a mustelid takes on the “sublime” attributes that would make Wordsworth proud. Even a meeting with an invasive species, a muntjac or a mink, is still a joy despite the damage they may be causing to their local biodiversity. These animals are our closest relatives on this island, it is right that we should revere them and relish in these encounters. But, if only we did more to protect them.


Prof. Tim Kendall:
University –
Twitter/X –

Prof. Fiona Mathews:
University –
Twitter/X –

Buy Black Ops and Beaver Bombing: Adventures with Britain’s Mammals

Red List for British Mammals –

Mammal Conservation Europe –

The Water Voles of Glasgow –

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