Scottish wildlife ‘at risk’ from rising temperatures

The shag is just one of many species from seabirds to plants "increasingly at risk" as temperatures rise. Picture: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
The shag is just one of many species from seabirds to plants "increasingly at risk" as temperatures rise. Picture: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
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Climate change is already affecting UK nature, with wildlife “increasingly at risk” as temperatures rise, conservationists have warned.

A report from the RSPB shows the impact warming temperatures in Europe are having on birds, bees, butterflies and plants and the risks of future impacts from more extreme storms, loss of habitat and disruption between predators and prey.

The study shows extreme weather such as heavy rainstorms – which is already becoming more frequent as a result of a warming world – hits species such as Scotland’s capercaillie and cormorant-like seabird the shag.

With natural events in spring and summer moving earlier, plants and different animal species are becoming out of sync, leading to concerns food will not be available when creatures need it.

Warming temperatures are also moving species’ ranges north, squeezing available habitat and bringing new arrivals to the UK’s shores.

In Scottish mountain habitats above the tree line, alpine plants have declined in recent decades, while generalist, lowland species have increased, the report showed.

Bird species associated with cooler climates, such as lapwings, are seeing numbers reduced, while those that are adapted to warmer conditions, such as bee-eaters which have recently been nesting in small numbers in the UK, are faring better.

The UK has seen the first breeding records for cattle egrets, purple herons and great white egrets, while regular breeding has begun here by little bitterns, with black winged stilts attempting to do so.

The small red-eyed damselfly is another new colonist, arriving on the east coast of England in 1999.

With the march northwards in the face of rising temperatures, some species may lose some or most of their range and be forced into areas where there is no habitat for them – making the creation and protection of wildlife areas key, according to the RSPB report.

With further unchecked climate change, a quarter of Europe’s butterfly species could lose more than 95 per cent of their current range by 2080, and nearly four-fifths of species could lose more than half of the area where they are currently found.

The problem is also severe for bumblebees, with a third facing the risk of losing more than 80 per cent of their current range by the end of the century, the RSPB said.

Research on 1,350 European plant species suggests a fifth could lose 80 per cent of their range by 2080, and one in 50 species could become extinct altogether.

There are also worrying signals from Europe’s seas, where conditions are changing the plankton, hitting the sand eels that feed on them and the kittiwakes that feed on the eels, contributing to a recent 70 per cent decline in the seabirds across the UK.

The report comes after a poll for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit suggested Britons were more worried about the impact of climate change on UK wildlife than any other aspect of the problem, with 79 per cent citing it as a concern, compared with 72 per cent for flooding and 50 per cent for heatwaves.