New Climate Adaptation Report Reveals Scale of Threat to UK Nature

New report from The Wildlife Trusts outlines radical steps required to help nature adapt to climate change

Dark green fritillary. Image Credit: Les Binns
  • Projected impacts on The Wildlife Trusts’ huge estate show scale of climate crisis in an era of dramatic nature decline
  • The Wildlife Trusts are increasing action to cope with climate change-induced floods, fires, low river flows, high temperatures, coastal erosion, and drought
  • Innovative projects help nature adapt to change such as beaver releases, rewetting peatlands and restoring entire landscapes

A new report published today by the UK’s sixth largest landowner reveals that society must help nature adapt to the climate crisis and be prepared to see wild places change in order to survive.

The Wildlife Trusts’ first climate risk assessment, Changing Nature, examines the impacts of the changing climate across their estate, which covers nearly 400 square miles. It assesses the risks and looks ahead at what is needed to help nature adapt and survive in the future. The findings come at a time when the UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

The research finds that, by the 2050s, under a future warming trajectory that reaches 3 °C warming by 2100:

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

The report shows how extreme weather is already affecting many Wildlife Trust reserves, including:

  • Wildfires – have destroyed valuable and rare habitats, affecting the availability of food for wildlife, and costing huge amounts of time and money
  • Flooding – has impacted wildlife, damaged infrastructure, and increased river pollution
  • Droughts – have lowered the water table on wetland nature reserves, dried out chalk streams and peat bogs, and concentrated pollution in rivers

The Wildlife Trusts want to see increased effort from governments, business, and other landowners on climate adaptation, including greater investment in nature-based solutions and a specific focus on resilience.

Kathryn Brown, director of climate change and evidence for The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“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.”

Restoring Nature at Scale is the Solution

The Wildlife Trusts are providing innovative solutions to help wildlife on land and sea adapt to the changing climate. Projects include beaver releases and re-bending rivers to regulate water flows, restoring peatlands to help them cope with hotter, drier conditions, and initiatives to control invasive species. Examples of projects include:

  • The Wildlife Trusts, collectively, are restoring over 40,000 hectares of peatland habitat, improving the resilience of landscapes to heat, drought, and fire. For example:
    • Somerset Wildlife Trust is rewetting lowland peat at Honeygar Farm
    • Lancashire Wildlife Trust is improving the carbon storage capacity of upland peat
    • Shropshire Wildlife Trust is rewetting the Mosses, benefitting wildlife and climate
  • 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
  • London Wildlife Trust is restoring chalk grassland so insects can move across the area
  • 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
  • Essex Wildlife Trust is restoring saltmarshes and coastal habitat in the Blackwater estuary
  • Devon Wildlife Trust is reverting coastal farmland to mudflats, boosting flood buffers
  • Ulster Wildlife is modelling marine habitats for blue carbon to prioritise restoration efforts
  • Sussex Wildlife Trust is using a beetle to control the spread of Australian swampweed
  • Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust is creating butterfly banks (small earth mounds), providing a variety of microclimates to benefit different species

Changing Nature, a report from The Wildlife Trusts can be downloaded here.

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