How we can all help Nature face climate change

PUBLISHED: 14:47 18 December 2017

Spoonbill: Perhaps the most distinctive of all the 'new arrivals' of recent years.

Spoonbill: Perhaps the most distinctive of all the 'new arrivals' of recent years.


Climate change is already affecting the natural world. David North, Head of People and Wildlife at Norfolk Wildlife Trust, explores its implications - and how we can help nature.

At the recent UN Climate Change summit in Bonn, Angela Merkel, addressing world leaders, said, ‘Climate change is an issue determining our destiny as mankind – it will determine the wellbeing of all of us.’ I suspect by ‘all of us’ Chancellor Merkel was probably not thinking about the other species with which we share our planet.

However, for someone who has worked for nature conservation in Norfolk for 30 years, it is very clear to see that climate change is already changing the natural world. Species are shifting their ranges. Birds, such as little egrets and Mediterranean gulls, that 30 years ago I would have had to travel to southern Europe to be sure of seeing, are now common in Norfolk.

Like other Norfolk birders of course I enjoy seeing these new arrivals. Who could not celebrate birds like the amazing spoonbills now breeding on the North Norfolk coast, or be thrilled by last year’s successful breeding in the Broads of black-winged stilts, another species more associated with southern Europe? Many birds of course are great long-distance travellers and, as long as suitable breeding habitats are available, can move from country to country, flying over barriers of hostile terrain to establish new breeding populations further north as the climate warms.

For the vast majority of other wildlife species, climate change is much more challenging. Globally, alongside habitat loss and pollution, climate change is perhaps the biggest threat to the future of our wildlife.

Of course in the past wildlife did survive big changes in climate, such as between glacial and interglacial periods. But these changes were over much longer time periods and then species were able to move across huge connected areas of natural habitat. Today, our modern landscapes have left many habitats as isolated islands surrounded by intensively-managed farmland, and divided by roads, buildings and our modern industrial landscapes.

So what, if anything, can we do to help wildlife in a climate change world? Well, actually conservation organisations, including Norfolk Wildlife Trust, are already taking action and need your support. And of course helping wildlife is also helping us – as Angela Merkel said this is an issue which will determine the well-being of all of us. And by ‘all of us’ I certainly include the wildlife with which we share our environment. On this issue we - plant, animal and person - are quite literally all together in the same planetary boat.

What we need to do to help wildlife is begin to link up these isolated islands of high-quality habitats (many of which are nature reserves) and build the connecting links back into our landscapes, giving wildlife more freedom to move and creating larger areas of good habitats that can help wildlife populations recover from recent declines.

The Wildlife Trusts have a name for this long-term vision of helping wildlife adapt to climate change: a Living Landscape. In a Living Landscape damaged and fragmented habitats are being restored; habitats that have been lost, such as ponds, heaths and flower-rich meadows are being re-created, and across the landscape these restored and newly-created habitats are connecting the landscape, helping wildlife move and adapt to climate change. Plus, creating these new wetlands, woodlands and meadowland also usually increases the capacity of the land to absorb carbon-dioxide.

The biggest threat to wildlife and ourselves is if we see climate change as too big an issue, too remote and too long-term to even think about, let alone act on. However, conservation groups, private landowners, communities and industry working together to connect habitat in key landscapes will help nature deal with the challenges of climate change.

If you would like to find out more about Living Landscapes work in Norfolk and how you can help please visit www.norfolkwildlifetrust/livinglandscapes

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