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The Nature of Climate Change

New RSPB report reveals the impact of climate change on some of the UK’s best-loved species
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A report published yesterday (16 November) by the RSPB shows that Europe’s wildlife is already being affected by climate change, and that the effects will only intensify over the course of this century.

Climate change and birds – European birdwatchers unravel how birds respond to climate change

The ‘greatest long-term threat’

The report, The Nature of Climate Change, reviews and compiles the existing evidence and shows that some of Europe’s best-loved wildlife, from birds to bees, is already at risk from a changing climate – and that this will increase over coming decades.

At the same time, a new poll of the British public has also found that Britons are more worried about climate impacts on UK wildlife than any other aspect of climate change.

‘Climate change is the greatest long-term threat to people and wildlife. We are already seeing its impacts and, alongside other pressures on land and at sea, our wildlife is increasingly at risk.’

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of conservation

Impact on wildlife

The report brings together the most compelling examples of how Europe’s wildlife is already being affected by climate change.

Wrecks of shags

Extreme weather events have already become more frequent and intense due to climate change. This trend will continue.

Weather extremes can harm wildlife; wet and windy springs, for example, can cause mass deaths (‘wrecks’) of shags. The UK supports 45% of the world’s breeding population of this cormorant-like seabird.

Protecting habitats

Wildlife will only be able to follow suitable climate if there is enough suitable habitat available: one third of Europe’s bumblebee species could lose 80% of their current range by 2100.

Better management of existing protected areas and the creation of new protected areas, alongside measures to make the wider landscape more wildlife-friendly, will play an important role in providing habitat to enable species to move.

Changing species

Species are diverging, in terms of timing, numbers and location. In the North Sea, climate change is changing sea conditions, with knock-on changes in plankton communities.

But the incoming plankton species are less suitable than those they replace as food for sand-eels – a small fish that is in turn the main food source for kittiwakes (a small gull) and other seabirds.

Climate change is therefore a factor in the 70 % decline in kittiwake populations in the UK in recent decades.

Heading north

As the climate changes, wildlife is having to move to follow suitable conditions northwards and uphill. As a result of these range changes, species are colonising new areas. This is what we would expect under climate change.

Since 1900, at least 120 species have colonised Britain. Small red-eyed damselflies, first recorded in 1999, are spreading through the country.

Conversely, there are also signs that species ranges might be starting to retract north at their southern edges. Wildlife may be forced to move into areas where there is no suitable habitat for it.

A public concern

A recent survey commissioned by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) shows that 79% of Britons are worried about climate impacts on UK wildlife, making it a greater concern than flooding (72%), heat waves (50%) or increased variability and prices of food (60%).

‘It’s quite a surprising finding because you’d think people would be more concerned about potential impacts to their homes, their larders and their wallets.

‘Instead it shows that Britain’s long-standing love affair with birds, flowers and animals shows no signs of abating, and that recent studies demonstrating climate change impacts on animals such as puffins, bumblebees and frogs have raised the alarm.’

Richard Black, Director of ECIU

WI poll

The findings are supported by a similar poll conducted by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI).

‘WI members have a long history of environmental action since speaking out on the threats to our seas from pollution in 1927, and recent campaigns include calls to protect wildlife and the countryside, and to increase funding into honeybee research.

‘Climate change and its impact on future generations are real and growing concerns for members with 56% most concerned about loss of UK wildlife, for example the ongoing threat to birds and bees, and 83% agreeing that world leaders must urgently agree a deal to tackle climate change.’

Marylyn Haines Evans, NFWI vice chair and chair of NFWI public affairs

Coping with a changing climate

For wildlife to be able to cope with a changing climate, we’ll need to manage more areas of land and sea for nature, in both protected areas and the wider countryside and seas. There is good evidence that protected areas across the European Union, such as Special Protection Areas, are already helping wildlife to respond to the changing climate.

‘Projections show that protected areas will remain important for wildlife in the future, even as species move due to climate change, and that we will need more of them. The laws they rely on, such as the Nature Directives, need to be maintained and better implemented. This means designating more areas on land and at sea and managing them to a high standard for wildlife.’

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of conservation

A picture of severe risk

In the next couple of weeks, BirdLife International will be publishing its own report on the impacts of climate change on birds around the world.

This report, coming just days after RSPB’s, will add to the growing picture of severe risk to the natural world if we don’t act quickly and decisively to limit climate change and to adapt to the impacts we can’t avoid.

‘The report has a clear message that the world’s governments need to act on fast, to limit climate change. They’ve no better opportunity to do this than the upcoming UN climate negotiations in Paris.

‘Countries such as the UK also need to make sure they’re making every possible effort to back up international ambition with action back home, in part by supporting the transition to a low carbon energy system.’

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of conservation

Click here to read the full RSPB report, The Nature of Climate Change.

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