Posted in | Climate Change

One-Third of UK Bird Species Affected by Climate Change

Over the past decade, the climate crisis has affected the number of bird species seen in and around the UK. According to research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), there has been an upturn in the numbers of some garden species such as goldcrests and blue tits as they benefit from the warm weather. However, while this increase in temperature may stimulate growth in numbers of some species, the outlook is not so favorable for others, for example, the numbers of cuckoos and turtle doves seen in the wild have reduced by more than 80%.

Image credit: SW_Stock / Shutterstock.com

This shift in UK bird populations is one of the direct results of the climate crisis, which means that nature and wildlife we are used to is going to be redefined. James Pearce-Higgins, director of science at the BTO, states, "The impacts of climate change are real.”

During the study, researchers found that the climate crisis had a direct impact on about one-third of the 64 bird species observed, with the population decreasing by at least 10% in three of the species.

These changes matter, not just because they are a major driver of changes in the British countryside, but because they help us to grasp the impact that climate change is having on the world around us.

Dr Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, BTO

While the BTO has announced that correlating the changes and variances in bird populations to the climate crisis “remains challenging”, they did recognize several species directly affected as the evidence clarifies there is “a reshuffling of the bird species.” The research team collected data from three different annual surveys, which also included in situ observations of areas of particular interest throughout the country.

There are various reasons for why these dynamic shifts benefit some species over others, as extended stays for some migrant species is a factor, the warm temperature means that some birds may now be able to lay more eggs and thus raise an extra brood. This has a knock-on effect on the numbers and balance of the domestic species, Dr. Pearce-Higgins said, “There are some winners that are doing better and some losers that are not doing so well.”

The northern upland species are vulnerable – we’re expecting the golden plover, if we do not act, to decline to extinction in the Peak District by the end of the century.

Dr. Pearce-Higgins

Other factors include the changes in natural habitat either through variances in plant and tree species as the climate changes, meaning many natural breeding grounds have changed or disappeared as well as humans directly destroying and removing parts of the natural environment.

Smaller garden species can survive the milder winters and this is thought to be because smaller birds will be fed by humans circumnavigating the change that the climate crisis has brought, the BTO said. For those breeding in the wild, the climate crisis is heavily disrupting.

If birds like the curlew are going to have a fighting chance, we have to safeguard the places where they currently feed and breed - or even put back some of the mass of habitat we've destroyed.

Naturalist Nick Baker

It has been reported that in the past 25 years the population of the curlew has decreased by about 40%.

Mr Baker continued: "Birds are amazing creatures - adaptable and resilient - but, as we've seen, only up to a point.”

So, what we must consider is that, even if these populations can adapt to a changing climate in the wake of the current crisis, humankind will not be helping them by continuing to inflict damage on their habitat.

"Their sensitivity to changing habitats, changing weather and a changing climate is perhaps a warning we humans would be foolish to ignore."

The effect of the changing climate and the current crisis we are dealing with means that the severity of the effects on UK bird populations will increase but is also likely to expand into other species of wildlife, making for a sizeable change in the wildlife and natural environment and potentially leading to the extinction of more species. So, unless humanity makes swift changes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the climate crisis will continue to devastate the natural world.

David J. Cross, M.A

Written by

David J. Cross, M.A

David is an academic researcher and interdisciplinary artist. David's current research explores how science and technology, particularly the internet and artificial intelligence, can be put into practice to influence a new shift towards utopianism and the reemergent theory of the commons.

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