80,000 years ago.
Once, this land was a warm place inhabited by Neanderthals, forest elephant, cave lion, hyena, and other big game, but in the wake of the harsh cold climate of the past millennia, they have been extirpated or evicted south from these lands, and prevented from returning to the British Isles when the sea levels rose once more. Now, though the climate is slightly warmer, a relative scarcity of animals inhabit this cold island.
It is early winter, and the tundra is beginning to show evidence of snowfall. A pack of wolves(Canis lupus cf. spelaeus), one of the few predators to inhabit the island, have been hunting. These wolves are large by any standards; the lack of competition from Europe's mainland predators has allowed them to grow larger than they ever have done before in this land's faunal history. They have made a kill - a male reindeer (Rangifer tarandus), one of only two large herbivores on the island. The deer has been chased by the canines into a wet ditch, where is has been caught and surrounded by the wolves. Exhausted, and unable to escape and free itself, the wolves begin to feed on the still-living deer, bloodying the water.
However, their hunger will have to wait. For all their size and ferocity, they are not the top predators of Britain. A steppe brown bear(Ursus arctos priscus) has been attracted to the scene. This gigantic bear is at least equal in size to the Kodiaks of Alaska today, and given the poor plant resources on the island, has developed an almost entirely carnivorous diet. The wolves scatter as the great bear approaches; though they have numbers on their side, they do not wish to risk their lives against the bruin. The reindeer, now in shock and severely maimed by the feasting wolves, has its fate sealed. The bruin clamps its jaws around the reindeer's throrat, and with its great strength, yanks the stag out of the ditch. The dying animal attempts to lash out with its limbs and regain footing, but its back legs have been rendered useless, as the wolves have torn apart the muscle beyond hope.
The wolves' hunger will have to wait.
During the interstadial period of MIS 5a, roughly 80,000 years ago, the British Isles had a very interesting faunal composition.
In earlier interstadial deposits in Britain, we have evidence of warm-climate fauna in MIS 5c and 5e, e.g. Hippopotamus & Paleoloxodon, as well as predators such as cave lion (Panthera spelaea) and hyena (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) but after the cold period of MIS 5b, it appears that these fauna were forced to leave/were extirpated. By MIS 5a, the geological record suggests that Great Britain was an isolated island, though the extent of the risen sea levels is unknown. The ability of species to swim, or even, perhaps, their ability to make crossings over sea-ice, may have acted as a natural biological filter.
What we know from the faunal records, from sites such as Banwell Bone cave, show a very reduced fauna, among the large predators, only wolves and a very large form of brown bear are recorded, and among large herbivores only reindeer and steppe bison(Bos priscus) were present on the island. No evidence of Neanderthal presence is recorded either. They only returned when there was a landbridge once again.
Analysis of the beetle fauna from this time show an abundance of species that today are restricted to arctic environments in present day Siberia, with a preference for very cold climates, and a mean winter temperature of -20±10℃ is estimated at the time. The environment was likely tundra-like.
Using regression equations, Flower 2016 estimated a mean body mass of 39.85±1.64 kg for wolves in Britain at this time, including the Banwell wolves. This is the largest size that has ever been attained by Pleistocene wolves in the British Isles (perhaps not so impressive when you realize that it's similar to extant wolves in size but still). Their larger size is likely due in part to their ecological "liberation", since cave lions and (more importantly) hyenas were absent from the Isles at this time, so the only competition was the brown bear. It is likely that given the poor plant resources present at the time that both wolves and brown bears would have been forced into direct ecological competition over the limited prey species available. When the continental predators returned to Britain in MIS 4 and MIS 3, the size estimates for British wolves goes down again. Dental analyses of the wolves suggests a highly hypercarnivorous diet.
During the Pleistocene of Eurasia, an obscure, though very large, very robust and highly carnivorous supspecies/ecomorph of brown bear is know from steppe environments. This is know as the steppe brown bear
(Ursus arctos priscus
), where the common name was given by Marciszak 2017. From the remains which are usually fragmentary, we know that the steppe brown bear was huge; some specimens exceed the largest cave bears in size:sta.sh/0ye25wgaoa5
(though I'm unsure if it was larger on average). They seem also to have convergently evolved similar skeletal features to the cave bears, in terms of their robusticity, which has made their remains at times difficult to distinguish from those of cave bears in the past.
Though its taxonomy is far from sorted, from the published isotopic evidence, we knew that cave hyenas occupied the central range of the prey spectrum, hunting mainly horse, bison and woolly rhinoceros. Both the solitary cave lion and the pack hunting megafaunal wolves show little dietary overlap, as they were unable to compete and were forced to consume prey that were less often hunted by the hyenas, e.g. reindeer, red deer, chamois until after the hyena's extirpation.
The only predators known to overlap with hyenas in diet were leopards and brown bears. Leopards, we know, hid their kills in small caves, and thereby avoided direct antagonism with hyenas. However we still have direct evidence of hyenas consuming their remains, and the hyenas appear to have had the competitive edge by far. However, brown bears are not known to have stashed kills in caves like leopards, in fact their remains are quite rare in caves. Bocherens 2011 points out the larger size of the brown bears in the Pleistocene may have allowed them to compete for prey/carcasses with what was otherwise the dominant predator of the mammoth steppe. The reason for their carnivory given by Bocherens was competition with the larger cave bears for plant resources, which does have evidentiary basis, but seems to be only half the story. In the 2017 International Cave Bear Symposium, Marciszak published some new abstracts which brought new light onto the steppe brown bear, where he states that the relative abundance of carcasses on the mammoth steppe created a niche for a kleptoparasite and all-round opportunistic bear. The role of the steppe brown bear in Eurasian steppe ecosystems seems to be similar to that of Arctodus in Beringia, where it was very carnivorous and likely kleptoparasitic, bullying other predators off of their kills. It is possible that they did not hibernate due to their carnivorous diet, and they were probably the largest predator on the steppe. However they don't seem to have been common, and likely had low population densities compared to other predators. When the mammoth steppe ecosystem collapsed, the large brown bear ecomorph seems to have gone with it, being replaced by smaller brown bears towards the end of glacial era.
While the taxonomic status of the British MIS 5a brown bears is not deeply studied, given that the apparent predecessor of the steppe brown bear, the Taubach brown bear (Ursus arctos taubachensis
) is recorded in the late Middle Pleistocene of Britain and some brown bear remains from the late Pleistocene (though of unknown exact age) may also belong to the later steppe brown bear, I decided to identify the British MIS 5a bears as steppe brown bears. They were certainly huge too: sta.sh/01cr5q3xrdvg
(sorry for the shit quality and my thumb, long story).
Analyses of the teeth of the Banwell brown bears shows a similar pattern of wear to polar bears, and based on comparisons to some extant brown bears, there seems to be very little contribution of seeds to their diets, instead being highly carnivorous. As well as hunting, flesh may also have been scavenged from (frozen) carcasses, as seen in modern polar bear utilisation of marine mammals. At this time the steppe brown bear, if we can attribute them to this variety, was the top predator of Britain.
Apparently the Banwell bone cave locality/ area was inhabited during spring and winter or somecraplikethat. 
For the coloration of the wolves, I was inspired by the arctic wolves and those of Mongolia, since those environments seem closest to this setting.
Though in mainland wolves the pale coat is also present, so I guess a mix of both colored and pale wolves in a pack isn't impossible.
As for the steppe brown bear - I did some research into grizzly coloration, and while a wide variety of pelts can be found in a single environment/ecoregion, it seems that for grizzlies in tundra environments, the paler, blonder coats are more prevalent, perhaps as an adaptive trait, which I decided to give to the steppe brown bear here:
Though I'm sure darker individuals would also exist, as they do in grizzlies.
I kinda finished this piece off in a hurry, so it probably has its flaws, and the water is shit. The clouds were made using various brushes downloaded from who-knows-what-users that I forgot.
But yeah I wanted to get this finished before the 16th.
Ugh, I did not produce as much art as I'd like to have done this summer, it just takes so long to make. -_-