Nature Recovery Series: The Great North Migration – Is Nature Prepared for Climate Change?

Posted by Sara King BSc (Hons) MCIEEM on 3/04/2019

Climate change will have a range of significant impacts on people, as well as our planet. It will also change our biodiversity and natural processes globally. Changes in climate and weather, and rising temperatures will change our ecosystems and species beyond recognition. In many cases, wildlife will need to commute north or to habitats higher in elevation to survive this change, and we will see more exotic species reaching our shores to adapt to the change in conditions and habitat types. Many areas of the UK, as well as our iconic habitats, will change beyond recognition with increases in global temperatures. But, are our systems and habitats resilient enough to cope with this? Do we have the networks available to allow this great north migration?

Biodiversity within the UK, and globally, is currently in decline for several reasons. One of the main reasons of this decline is a decrease in habitat as well as fragmentation of retained habitats. We have a network of fragmented protected areas, woodland and water courses with very little connectivity. This is a problem in the face of climate change. How can nature and species naturally disperse with the changing climate if connections and green corridors are not there to allow this migration? Without a strong network of nature recovery areas, there will be no where for species to go. As a result, it is likely that this will lead to further declines in biodiversity and species extinctions.

Connectivity is key to this ecosystem resilience to climate change. Many feel that now is the time for an overhaul in our conservation strategy to ensure significant change at the local and national level. This should comprise a national strategy to identify nature recovery areas, linking up existing designated sites, national parks and other protected/priority areas. Mandatory net gain initiatives can be used to increase the amount of capital being invested into these areas to allow large scale natural regeneration. More significant, nationally strategic green corridors will also improve natural areas for leisure, tourism and to improve our wellbeing and health.

Initiatives such as rewilding can also be used to further improve the resilience of these systems, and is likely to have a place in many areas. This could include the reintroduction of some keystone species, as well as restoration of natural grazing areas. The Environment Agency are warning that we could have water shortages within 20 years. Large scale restoration areas, including the reintroduction of beavers, as well as natural flood management schemes, could improve the restoration of water on the land and minimise water shortages in the future. This would also improve biodiversity.

Conservation bodies and stakeholders need to look at a national strategy using innovations and advances in technology to improve the efficiency and accuracy of such a strategy. I would also like to see large scale implementation of nature recovery within this networks as part of the UN Decade of restoration (2021-2030) to try to improve our ecosystem resilience, as well as our biodiversity and natural areas. Only then will our natural areas be resilient to climate change, and species will have the ability to move through our countryside and react to warming conditions in the coming years.