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Charity warns of climate risks across its wildlife sites

Words: Laura Edgar
Wildfire damage at Lancashire Wildlife Trust - reserve / Janet Packham

The Wildlife Trusts organisation has issued a climate risk-related assessment of its estate that considers what is needed to help nature to adapt and survive.

The assessment of 400 square miles comes at a time when the UK is one of the “most nature-depleted” countries in the world.

The report, Changing Nature, documents how the changing climate and extreme weather is already affecting Wildlife Trust reserves. This includes wildfires destroying valuable and rare habitats, which diminishes the availability of food for wildlife.

Furthermore, flooding has hit wildlife, damaged infrastructure and increased river pollution while at the other end of the scale droughts have lowered the water table on wetland nature reserves, dried out chalk streams and peat bogs, and concentrated pollution in rivers.

To address these issues and climate adaptation, there needs to be “increased effort” from government, business and landowners. The Wildlife Trusts says this includes greater investment in nature-based solutions and a specific focus on resilience.

Considering a future trajectory of 3°C warming by 2100, Changing Nature outlines that by the 2050s:

  • Half of The Wildlife Trusts’s nature reserves will have 30+ days of very high fire risk yearly.
  • Almost all reserves will see more than a 1°C increase on hot summer days by 2050.
  • 55 per cent of reserves will see nearby river flows drop by more than 30 per cent during times of low flow.

Kathryn Brown, director of climate change and evidence for The Wildlife Trusts, commented: “Climate change is contributing more and more to nature’s decline with devastating consequences for people and wildlife. We are already stepping up our efforts to restore habitats so that they benefit wildlife and are better able to store carbon. Our report also shows the range of actions we are taking to help nature adapt to climate change and what’s needed in the future – from further rewetting of peatlands to backing community-led rewilding projects.

“The projected impact of climate change on our nature reserves is just the tip of the iceberg. We need people to join us in creating a new national vision for our landscapes because we can no longer focus only on restoring nature to a historical state; change is inevitable.

“A concerted effort is required to create more space for nature everywhere, enabling natural ecosystems to function properly, creating habitats for wildlife, and building diversity and flexibility for the future.”

Changing Nature identifies a series of barriers that impede how the wildlife charity and other landowners can adapt to the changing climate. These barriers are:

  • Land designations based on historic features that hinder flexibility to manage sites for a future climate.
  • Complex land ownership patterns that make it difficult to conduct adaptation projects across large enough areas.
  • Lack of government support to help small organisations to address climate risk and take adaptation action.

Over the next five years, The Wildlife Trusts will, among a number of plans, assess how current management practices and advice protects terrestrial and freshwater species in a changing climate and work in partnership to create more joined=up networks for nature.

The wildlife charity is working on a number of projects to help wildlife, such as beaver releases and adding bends back to rivers to regulate water flows; restoring peatlands so they can cope better with hotter, drier conditions; and initiatives to control invasive species. Such projects include:

  • The Wildlife Trusts, collectively, are restoring more than 40,000 hectares of peatland habitat, improving the resilience of landscapes to heat, drought, and fire. Somerset Wildlife Trust is rewetting lowland peat at Honeygar Farm as part of this.
  • Sheffield, Staffordshire and Cornwall Wildlife Trusts are reducing risks of wildfire by creating fire breaks, digging fire ponds, and rewetting at-risk areas.
  • Norfolk Wildlife Trust is restoring a naturally functioning wetland at Hickling Broad
  • Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is creating ‘ark sites’ as refuges for white-clawed crayfish to help them re-establish numbers away from areas exposed to crayfish plague.
  • Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is re-bending the river Sherbourne and creating new wetlands.
  • North Wales Wildlife Trust is restoring seagrass meadows to improve marine resilience.
  • Ulster Wildlife is modelling marine habitats for blue carbon to prioritise restoration efforts.

Changing Nature can be found on The Wildlife Trusts website (pdf).

Image credit | Janet Packham