Birds of Scotland risk wipeout as warming drives them north

SCOTTISH birds could be wiped out because of rising temperatures that force them northwards in search of a cooler climate, scientists have warned.

Birds under threat from climate change include the Scottish crossbill – the only species unique to the British Isles.

It currently survives in the remnants of the Caledonian forest in the Highlands, but experts fear it could be wiped out as the warming climate renders its habitat no longer suitable.

Research to be published tomorrow by Durham University and the RSPB will show that most bird species are expected to move 340 miles north by 2100, as the climate heats up. For species already living at the edge of their range, this could make life in Scotland impossible, and it is feared that some could have disappeared by the end of the century.

Species living high up in mountainous parts of Scotland or in the far north are believed to be particularly at risk.

As well as the Scottish crossbill, threatened species could include the snow bunting, the ptarmigan and the dotterel, a member of the plover family, which lives only on the tops of Scottish mountains.

Species that live on lochs in the north of Scotland could also be at risk, such as the common scoter – a red-listed duck – and the red-necked phalarope – a small wader.

It is feared that, as the temperature rises, the food they rely on in the lochs could vanish, leaving them unable to survive.

"There is simply no place left for these birds to go," Graham Madge of the RSPB explained.

"The crossbill is now confined to the very north of Scotland.

"As Europe heats up, only Iceland offers the prospect of a new homeland. However, the crossbill cannot fly that far – certainly not across the North Sea.

"Similarly, the snow bunting has had to move further and further up the Cairngorms as the climate has warmed," he said.

"Basically it is running out of mountain."

Dr Steve Willis, from Durham University, added: "In the past, climate change has affected wildlife in these islands.

"However, species have adapted, because these changes were relatively gradual.

"But what is happening now is so rapid that birds cannot adapt, and so face extinction."

Dr James Pearce-Higgins, senior conservation scientist at RSPB Scotland, said a warming climate could bring changes in food supply, increased risk of disease and more frequent floods, which could all have an impact on birds living at the edge of their range.

"It's very complicated, but what we can do is try to manage the countryside to try and help them cope with climate change," he said.

"We are at the start of a significant environmental problem and potential catastrophe, and we need to be doing the work now in order to be in a position to do something about it."

Just as Scotland could lose species of birds, so in the south of England foreign breeds are expected to take over more and more of the countryside.

Already, continental birds such as the hoopoe and the serin are likely to cross the English Channel, according to ornithologists.

The study will be published tomorrow in the journal Public Library of Science.

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