World leaders are preparing to meet later this month in Paris to finalise a global deal on climate change that will take us past 2020. The European Union is also evaluating many of its laws, and some of those threatened with being changed or watered down are our most important nature laws, like the Birds and Habitats Directives. Evidence has shown that they deliver crucial protection for nature, work well and need to be maintained.
So RSPB’s new report, The nature of climate change couldn’t come at a more apposite time to demonstrate the need for strong laws to help us protect, restore and reduce the pressures on nature.
Wildlife is changing
I was wandering around the RSPB’s Arne reserve in Dorset only a few weeks ago, keeping my ears peeled for the electric buzz of a beautiful silver and purple bird that blends into the heather. It was a little optimistic but not impossible for a cold autumn day. This bird, the Dartford warbler, was once restricted to the south of England, but now, abetted by warmer temperatures, it can be found across many parts of England, and as far north as the midlands.
But this apparently fortuitous outcome from climate change means little without its context: the gains the Dartford warbler makes in the north are likely to be far outweighed by losses to its habitat at the most southerly edge of its range, in countries like Spain, in coming decades.
The report paints the big picture. Across Europe, wildlife has already been affected by climate change, and these effects are likely to intensify over the course of this century.
Species spreading like the Dartford warbler, or colonising like the black-winged stilt or small red-eyed damselfly are thrilling. But they are only the corner pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that is much wider and much less pretty.
The 70 per cent decline of the UK’s kittiwakes (surely our most beautiful seabird), since the 1980s, has been linked to climate change. Growing numbers of edible dormice in the Czech Republic, boosted by warming temperatures, are threatening the chicks of collared flycatchers. By the end of the century, a third of Europe’s bumblebees could lose 80 per cent of their range. And, in Finland, 48 species of butterfly moved 60 km northwards between 1992 and 2004.
Protected areas have already benefited wildlife coping with climate change and will continue to play that role. Where climate change forces our wildlife to move northwards or uphill, it may be pushing it into places without suitable habitat. This makes the way we manage nature reserves and the wider countryside important. We need to make sure there are more, bigger, better connected, managed areas for nature to move into.
Restoring natural systems helps wildlife and people
In fact, protecting and restoring natural systems can help people and wildlife alike. Rewetting peatlands and preventing their burning can boost cranefly numbers, helping the declining golden plover that feeds on them. This also locks away carbon as well as improving the quality of public water supply.
The findings and stories in the report sit at the intersection of several current political debates. To minimise the impacts on wildlife and help nature to adapt and recover, RSPB hopes the government will be backing strong action on the domestic, European and international stages and particularly at the UN climate talks in Paris.