CURRENT climate change projections for 2050 indicate a major adverse effect on UK ecosystems and populations of flora and fauna. This was the finding of a comprehensive study using computer modelling and observation to evaluate climate change impacts on the country’s 50 species. The study was carried out with the aid of several British, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish environmental agencies and non-governmental organizations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds by the UK Climate Impacts Programme. “It is clear that improvements are taking place at a pace that goes beyond the ability of many natural systems to adapt without human assistance,” the researchers noted in their paper, Climate Change and UK Nature Conservation: A Study of the Impact of Climate Change on UK Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Policy.
The mountain ringlet butterfly, now inhabiting the Lake district of Scotland’s mountainous area, will be killed irrespective of any attempt to preserve the species. The report attributes this as a result of climate change to the destruction of suitable habitat. The capercaillie, a bird, is another species which will be most adversely affected. It is expected that at least 99% of its Scottish highland habitat will degrade by 2050. The beech trees are predicted to vanish from the south of England and East Anglia as warming contributes to ground drying in summers. The snow bunting, a species that avoid colder climates, faces the same fate. The research suggests that certain species such as the toad of beech and natterjack would move north to colonize new areas.
In the eastern and southern areas, higher temperatures and decreased dryness are not the only sources of trouble. More wet winters and higher extreme weather events such as floods and droughts will also change habitats. According to the forecast, by 2050 southern summers will be 22% drier, while sea levels will increase by around 78 centimetres in the south and east. Higher levels of the sea can cause widespread flooding in coastal areas with curlews, dunlins and redshanks which lack food. But from rain, the oystercatcher will benefit. The habitats that are most sensitive to the impacts of climate change are montane habitats and elevated bogs that are vulnerable to the loss of appropriate climatic conditions.
The study suggested strategies to conserve biodiversity that could be used to establish buffer zones around protected areas or to help animals and ecosystems move to new locations by building stepping stones for them. These systems, however, have a limited function as they can shield birds and insects but are of little use to most plants which are too slow to react to change.