Climate change, habitat loss, and adaptation in birds and insects

08augustA recent study has been looking at the way animals adapt to a changing climate, and it presents a mixed picture of gains and losses.

There is a common assumption, borne out by a number of scientific studies, that the first response of species to climate change will be to change their habitat range. We have seen this across the past decade or so with new bird species coming into the UK to breed, such as egrets. But what happens to the species pushed out?

In theory they should move North and adopt new spaces. But what this study shows is that intensive land management has removed suitable habitat for them to occupy. So while some warm-adapted species can benefit, cold-adapted species are simply disappearing.

This problem, that intensive land use is negatively impacting wildlife, was also raised in the State of Nature report last year.

For many warm-adapted butterfly and dragonfly species however it is a different story. They need less substantial habitat to thrive, therefore the impact of the intensive land use is less of an issue.

For the warm-adapted birds this land use issue remains as it restricts the new range they can occupy too.

All this comes at a time of threat and opportunity presented by Brexit. This could present a conservation bonus, as the existing farm subsidies are one of the biggest problems for effective land use. By encouraging poor use, and by rewarding the biggest landowners, they benefit neither conservation nor farmers. A new subsidy system that focused on smaller farms (by capping the amount of land you can claim for) and encouraged better practice would be most welcome and would actually benefit real farmers.

The concern however is that those big landowners (many of whom are foreign companies) have sway over both the NFU and elements of the government. That course would mean an end to protections (as our government attempted through the EU) and money going to the people who don’t need it.

Because we know what the problem is, we know the action needed. Strategic reserves of suitable habitat, targeted to benefit species as their ranges change. The next step is getting political will behind it.


The paper is here http://centaur.reading.ac.uk/68622/

And you can read a Guardian piece on the study here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/11/birds-vanish-england-climate-change-habitat-loss

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I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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