The Nature of Climate Change

The RSPB have released a report showing evidence of the impact of climate change on Europe’s wildlife. A month ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference; The Nature of Climate Change has reviewed existing evidence to show how our wildlife is already suffering the impacts of a warming planet, with these impacts only likely to become more exaggerated as time goes on.

The report collates and outlines the various risks faced by wildlife; from bees to water voles some of our favourite species may soon be faced with extinction if leaders fail to act. Perhaps what is most striking about the report however is that climate change is no longer a future threat, it is being felt today. There are multiple strands of evidence to suggest that time is running out to preserve certain species; due to changing weather patterns, changing seas and a lack of suitable habitat.

Studies into climate change have already documented various trends amongst wildlife as well as trying to predict how species will react to a warmer planet. It has already been observed that many species will move as their suitable conditions move. Europe is no exception to this and range changes are leading species to colonise new areas. In the last 100 years at least 120 species have colonised Britain; one of which is the small red-eyed damselfly. First observed in 1999 this insect has spread its way across the country. Although not all colonists present a problem to Britain’s biodiversity and changing their range may enable a species to survive the impacts of climate change, it should be noted that ranges may also shrink as wildlife is forced into areas without suitable habitat for it.

Europe’s bumblebees could stand to lose out massively as one third of all Europe’s species could lose 80% of their current range by the end of the century. The economically important pollinators are already under threat from a huge host of threats, which makes the lack of suitable habitat as their range moves a serious concern. It is hoped that better management and more protected areas, combined with making the wider landscape more wildlife friendly may combat this however.

Of course it is not just single species which will be affected. We are all aware that patterns in nature are changing, from birds migrations to the time of year flowers bloom however these changes are also occurring in the seas and oceans. The North Sea is currently bearing witness to a change in conditions which is changing plankton communities and thus climate change is impacting upon a whole food chain.

Changing seas, means that the usual plankton species are being replaced by incoming species which are less suitable as food for sand eels. In turn this has an impact upon seabird populations; particularly on the kittiwake who primarily feeds upon sand eels. The UK populations of kittiwakes have undergone a 70% decline within the last few decades, and climate change is a factor in this.

Finally climate change affects weather; this barely needs stating. Climate change means that extreme weather events will become more frequent and fierce, bad news for everyone especially seabirds. The vicious winter storms of 2013/14 caused a seabird disaster as 50,000 birds washed ashore dead. The prime victims of these storms were puffins, guillemots and razorbills but damage is not limited to these species. Wet and windy springs can cause mass deaths in shag populations, a bird which the UK supports 45% of the breeding population of. Thus as Britain’s weather patterns change, large numbers of shags will potentially fall victim to climate change.

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.”

He continues: “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.”

Birdlife International will also be publishing a report on the impacts of climate change upon bird populations in the upcoming weeks and add to the growing pressure to which world leaders must respond to. This years climate conference has been billed as the last chance to make any meaningful change to prevent the impacts of a warmer planet, and it is becoming increasingly clear that unless we act quickly and decisively our biodiversity will suffer horrendously at the hands of climate change.

Featured Image of a Kittiwake by Andy Hay

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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