Britain was originally a land of vast forests, mainly oak and beech in the Lowlands and pine and birch in the Highlands, with great stretches of marshland and smaller areas of moors. In the course of time, much forest land was cleared and almost all Lowlands outside the industrial areas were put under cultivation. Today only about 6 per cent of the total land area remains wooded.
Extensive forests remain in eastern and northern Scotland and in south-eastern and western England. Oak, elm, ash, and beech are the commonest trees in England, while Scotland has much pine and birch. The Highlands with thin soil are largely moorland with heather and grasses. In the cultivated areas that make up most of Britain there are many wild flowers, flowering plants and grasses.
The fauna or animal life of Britain is much like that of north-western Europe, to which it was once joined. Many larger mammals such as bear, wolf have been hunted to extinction, others are now protected by law. There are many foxes. Otters are common along rivers and streams, and seals live along much of the coast. Hedgehogs, hares, rabbits, rats and mice are numerous. Deer live in some of the forests in the Highlands of Scotland and England.
Some 230 kinds of birds live in Britain, and another 200 are regular visitors, many are songbirds. The most numerous are blackbirds, sparrows and starlings. Robin Redbreast is the national bird of Britain. The number of ducks, geese and other water fowl has diminished during recent years.
There are many threats to wildlife and ecological balance around the coast. The biggest threat to the coastline is pollution. Even much-loved Blackpool is not officially safe. More than 3.500 million tons of industrial waste is pumped into the North Sea every year. "We cannot continue to use our seas as a dustbin and expect our coastline to survive," says Greenpeace. Many other ecological problems may be caused by privatization of the coast. Many of the rivers are ''biologically dead'', i.e. unable to support fish and wildlife.