Rare plants vanishing as climate change hits Scottish peaks

Rare plants are being hit by global warming on Scottish hills. Picture: Contributed
Rare plants are being hit by global warming on Scottish hills. Picture: Contributed
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Scotland’s rare mountain plants are disappearing at an “alarming rate” and face possible extinction, according to new research for the country’s leading conservation charity.

Monitoring for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has revealed that many fragile alpine species are vanishing from areas they used to inhabit and retreating to higher altitudes as a response to global warming.

Conservationists say milder, wetter winters, drier springs and a decrease in lying snow are having an impact on plants growing on Scottish peaks.

Studies at some of the nation’s famous beauty spots have revealed major declines.

In some cases, plants have completely vanished from lower level locations where they had previously thrived.

Experts have been comparing recent survey results with information dating back to the 1950s, revealing the impact of rising temperatures.

NTS ecologist Dan Watson said: “Our monitoring shows that climate change is affecting Scotland’s mountains at an alarming rate.

“Trust monitoring tracks the decrease of rare arctic-alpine plants such as snow pearlwort on Ben Lawers and Highland saxifrage in Glencoe and shows how populations are declining at lower altitudes.

“Meanwhile, common temperate plants less able to cope with extreme climates are moving further up the hills.”

Environmental campaigners say the results are “worrying” and reinforce the need for strong measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a reminder that a bold actions are needed to protect wildlife and secure the full benefits of moving to a zero-carbon economy,” said Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland.

“These important studies reveal the worrying fact that, as a result of climate change, many of Scotland’s cold-loving plant species are literally running out of mountain.

“It’s therefore vital that all our elected politicians are made aware of these finding and continue to support action to address climate change.”

Mr Watson says further research must be carried out before it is too late.

He added: “These results are firm evidence of the rise in mountain temperatures and the decrease in lying snow on southerly slopes and at lower altitudes.

“Current estimates indicate that snow cover at 1,060m is projected to be reduced by 21 per cent by the 2050s.”

He says NTS research, carried out on a six-year cycle, is producing evidence of a long-term trend towards extinction.