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Climate change: a hot topic for the UK's wildlife and public

Last modified: 16 November 2015

Kittiwake pair displaying at nest

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

Image: Andy Hay

Climate change: a hot topic for the UK's wildlife and public

A new report published today (16 November) by the RSPB shows that Europe's wildlife is already being affected by climate change and these effects will only intensify over the course of this century.

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 this will increase over coming decades.

Also, 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.

'the greatest long-term threat to people and wildlife'

Martin Harper, RSPB's Director of Conservation, said: "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."

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

  • Extreme weather events have already become more frequent and intense due to climate change. This trend will continue. Weather extremes can harm wildlife. For example, wet and windy springs can cause mass deaths ('wrecks') of shags. The UK supports 45 per cent of the world's breeding population of this cormorant-like seabird.
  • 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 per cent 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.
  • 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. However 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 per cent decline in kittiwake populations in the UK in recent decades.
  • 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.

79 per cent of Britons worried about climate impacts on UK wildlife

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

Richard Black, Director of ECIU, said: “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."

This poll is supported by a similar one conducted by the National Federation of Women's Institutes (NFWI).

Marylyn Haines Evans, NFWI Vice Chair and Chair of NFWI Public Affairs, said: “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 per cent most concerned about loss of UK wildlife, for example the ongoing threat to birds and bees, and 83 per cent agreeing that world leaders must urgently agree a deal to tackle climate change.”

'The laws nature relies on need to be maintained and better implemented'

Martin Harper continued: "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.

"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."

In just a week or two, BirdLife International, the international partnership of which the RSPB is a member, will be publishing their own report on the impacts of climate change on birds around the world. This report, coming just days after ours, will add to the growing picture of severe risk to the natural world if we do not act quickly and decisively to limit climate change and to adapt to the impacts we can't avoid.

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Downloads

The nature of climate change (1.6Mb)
This report presents the evidence that wildlife in the UK and beyond is already facing a more challenging time due to the climate change that has occurred; and that things are, for the most part, only likely to get worse.
The nature of climate change - summary report (990Kb)
This report presents the evidence that wildlife in the UK and beyond is already facing a more challenging time due to the climate change that has occurred; and that things are, for the most part, only likely to get worse.

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