Thursday, March 23, 2017

Non-native Species in Britain (for research)

When writing historical fiction, one little slip like giving King Alfred a tomato can wreak havoc with an author's credibility. The other day I was called to task for using a rabbit in Canute's Britain, because the reviewer said that rabbits were introduced by the Normans. Yikes! I was saved by the recent archeological discovery of 2000-year old rabbit bones in Norfolk, but just barely. According to an article in the Telegraph, "Years of division among academics over whether the Romans or the Normans introduced rabbits into Britain appears to have been resolved." OK, you get the idea. It's hard to research every little tidbit of information that could trip us up, but it put me to thinking. So I went onto Google and did a homely little search of my own about some of the more "obvious" non-native species in Britain; as an American, I admit this is not second nature to me! I'm certain my list is far from exhaustive, but I welcome any input that would enlighten the overburdened author.


CARP: The logical conclusion is that carp were imported some time during the 14th century, because after the (anonymous) Treatyse, references to the fish multiply, presumably reflecting what the carp were doing, thanks to the new craze for fish ponds. (see

DEER (CHINESE WATER): Chinese water deer were first kept at London Zoo in 1873 but escaped from Whipsnade Zoo in 1929. Numbers increased through introductions into deer parks and subsequent escapes and releases (see

DEER (SIKA): Sika were introduced from the Far East into Britain in 1860. While several subspecies, including Chinese, Japanese, Formosan and Manchurian, were introduced into parks the only free-living form in Britain is the Japanese sika. (see

EDIBLE DORMOUSE: In Roman times, they were fattened, stuffed and served as a delicacy . But the edible dormouse escaped from Lionel Walter Rothschild's private collection near Tring, Hertfordshire, in 1902. (see FERAL GOAT: They were brought here in Neolithic times (about 5000 BP) as domestic stock, derived from the Bezoar Capra aegagrus, a native of the Middle East (see

FERRET: The first reference to ferrets in England was 1223 when a ferreter was listed as part of the Royal Court. (see

GREY SQUIRREL: Grey squirrels (Scirius caroliniensis) are native to North America and were first released in the UK in 1876 in Henbury Park, Cheshire. It's not clear why they were introduced and the Victorians had no idea of the risks of introducing non-native species. (google).

MINK: A widespread modern misconception is that the UK’s wild population of American Mink originated from mass releases of mink from fur farms by animal rights activists in the 1990s. Many people will remember these dramatic events for the sheer numbers of mink involved. In fact, the wild population was established decades earlier from multiple escapes (and perhaps deliberate releases) all over the country. (see

PARAKEET: Despite rumours they escaped from film studios during the filming of the African Queen, ring-necked parakeets actually arrived from India much earlier in 1855 (see

PARTRIDGE RED-LEGGED: The red-legged partridge (redleg) is not native to Britain, but was successfully introduced to East Anglia in about 1770, using stock from France. (see

PHEASANT (COMMON): As far as post-Romano Albion is concerned, the first documentary evidence of the pheasant’s existence, a starting point for the history ofthe pheasant, is an order of King Harold who offered the canons of Waltham Abbey a “commons” pheasant as an alternative to a brace of partridges as a specific privilege of their office in 1059. (Harold wasn't king then, but whatever...) (see

RABBIT: The Romans introduced rabbits. Marcus Terrentius Varro (116-27BC) wrote that the legions brought rabbits from Spain, where they were reared in walled enclosures and then served up as a gourmet dish. (see

RAINBOW TROUT are natives of North America and were been introduced to the UK in the 19th century.(from

TURKEY: Turkeys are believed to have first been brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland - he acquired six birds from American Indian traders on his travels and sold them for tuppence each in Bristol. (see


APPLE: There is evidence that apples grew wild in Britain in the Neolithic period but it was the Romans who first introduced varieties with sweeter and greater taste. The earliest known mention of apples in England was by King Alfred in about 885 AD in his English translation of "Gregory's Pastoral Care". (see

PEA: Before the end of the 16th century, botanists in Belgium, Germany, and England described many kinds of peas: tall and dwarf; with white, yellow and green seed colors; smooth, pitted and wrinkled seeds. By the 1560s Peas became a familiar Lenten dish in France and England. (See

PEAR: It is probable that pears were cultivated in Britain during the Roman occupation but the production of the fruit was slow to develop although there is mention in the Domesday Book of old pear trees as boundary markers. By the 13th century many varieties of pears had been imported from France and the fruit was used mainly for cooking rather than eating raw. (see

POTATO: The potato arrived in England from Virginia, brought here by the colonists sent there in 1584 by Sir Walter Raleigh. They arrived back here in 1586 and Joseph Banks says that they probably brought the potato with them. (see

SPINACH: Spinach came to England and France in the 14th century from the Spain. It became very popular there because it grew in spring when there were no other vegetables in that period of history. (see

TOMATO: It was introduced in 1597, but it remained viewed as unhealthy, poisonous and unfit to eat in both England and its North American colonies. That changed in mid-18th century after many advances in selective breeding from Spain and Italy. (see

What did I miss? That was kind of fun!

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