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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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   Coming Up : Inside Out England: Friday March 30, 2007
Butterfly (Image: PA Images)
Butterflies - early sightings are increasing. Image - PA.

Nature and climate change

Inside Out investigates the impact of global warming on wildlife across England.

Mike Dilger travels from the South West of England, almost to the Scottish border, on his quest to find out how climate change is affecting wildlife.

Coastal changes

Mike starts his journey in Plymouth fish market in Devon where every week day catches from all over the country are brought to be sold.

Fish have been caught in the waters around the coast of South West England for hundreds of years.

But traders are finding is that warm water species are regularly turning up that were very rare a decade ago.

Red Mullet
Red Mullet - the new British fish with chips?

As this region is one of the warmest places in the country, it's perhaps not surprising that we're starting to witness some evidence of climate change.

On our visit to Plymouth fish market we saw Couch's Sea Bream and Red Mullet.

Gilt Head Bream and Common Octopus were spotted on other occasions.

All these are well beyond their usual range. Could this be the impact of climate warming?

Not everybody is agreed because different factors can make fish move around.

But what's certain is that sea temperatures around our coasts are getting warmer, and we're getting lots more curiosities like these.

Rock pool wonders

It's not just in the sea that we are seeing changes - it's also evident on the beach where the make-up of our wildlife is changing.

Mike's next stop is Wembury beach, just a few miles up the coast from Plymouth - a great place for rock pooling.

Wembury beach - the climate is changing at beach level

Here warm water species are becoming more common such as purple top shells, and experts are finding, that as warm water creatures increase, the cold water ones lose out.

Nove Mieszkowska of the Marine Biological Association has been carrying out a four year study of our rocky coast.

She's found that cold water barnacles and limpets are now being outnumbered by warm water species:

"These are bottom of the food chain… so real sentinel species - early warning indicators of what's happening elsewhere in our marine environment".

Mediterranean wildlife

Elsewhere the warmer winters mean plenty of Mediterranean creatures are moving in.

For example, Little Egrets, which began breeding in Dorset for the first time in 1996, are now breeding on several sites.

Another creature that's spreading is the False Widow Spider, a relative of the infamous Black Widow Spider.

Bug life - some species like our new warmer climate

These spiders were first recorded in Torquay in Devon in the 19th Century.

They arrived as stowaways on crates of bananas from the Canaries.

They remained on the south coast in small clusters.

But with the recent run of mild winters, they've increased in number and distribution.

One study has showed that where they meet our native spiders, they either push them out or eat them!

Changing wildlife

We're also likely to lose some of our wildlife, who find it warm enough elsewhere.

In the last 10 years the population of winter wading birds has fallen by between 10 and 15 per cent.

Dartford Warbler c/o RSPB Images
The Dartford Warbler is expanding its range.
Photo - RSPB Images

As the temperatures rise on the continent, many birds realise they don't need to come to Britain for the winter.

They can stay close to their breeding grounds and save energy.

The Dartford Warbler was once found only on heathland along the south coast.

Now they've been seen in East Anglia and South Wales.

Out of harmony?

Mike Dilger also heads north to the Dark Peaks of the Peak District, an area of high moorland sandwiched between Sheffield and Manchester.

This area boasts the only English population of Mountain Hare.

In winter they turn white to camouflage them in the snow, hiding them from predators.

The trouble is there's not much snow anymore.

Golden Plover
Out of synchronisation - dangers for the Golden Plover?

The Hare might eventually stop turning white, but in the meantime they stick out like a sore thumb.

The Peaks are also the southern extreme of blanket peat bog, a habitat that's as rare as the rainforest, and internationally important for breeding birds.

The Golden Plover comes to nest here in the spring, feeding on the insects in the spagnum pools.

But research shows that as it's become warmer, the Golden Plover have started nesting earlier.

The fear is the insects they feed on won't similarly adapt, and the birds will be out of synchronisation with the food they depend on.

But the long, dry summers are causing potentially a much bigger problem.

The peat itself is drying out, and eroding.

Once the peat loses water, it's difficult for it to regain that water holding capacity. It also starts releasing carbon.

Wilderness refuge

Mike's final destination is close to the summit of Helvellyn in the Lake District, not far from the Scottish border.

At 950 metres above sea level, this mountain is one of the coldest and most inhospitable places.

Yet it's one of the last refuges for some really special wildlife.

After a long steep climb Mike finds what he's been looking for.

Purple Saxifrage is one of a community of alpine flowers that are ice age relics.

Purple Saxifrage - could be driven out by other plants

You can find them on the north and east faces which are the coldest parts of the mountain.

Purple Saxifrage is the best known because in April there's a dramatic display of purple flowers.

These plants survive here because they have no other plants to compete with.

There are so few species that can stand the cold, hostile conditions.

But as temperatures rise, other more aggressive plants are likely to move in, and the Alpine plants, with nowhere else to go, are likely to disappear.

Butterfly effect

Butterflies, like birds, are very visible and they can and do react quickly to climate change by expanding or retracting their range.

This makes them very good indicators of the effects of warming.

Speckled Wood Butterfly
Speckled Wood Butterfly - expanding its range.
Photo - Natural England/Glendell

Two of our butterflies - the Comma and the Speckled Wood - have expanded their range dramatically.

Fifty years ago in England both were largely restricted to the south.

Last year the Speckled Wood was seen at sites in County Durham, and the Comma has now reached Scotland.

Researchers reckon they're moving north between one and five kilometres every year.

Wildlife impact

To many people climate change seems far away.

Yet we know it's happening and its effects are complex: synchronisation, habitat loss, competition, changes in distribution, and some very obvious winners and losers.

It's clear that wildlife is one of the best indicators of climate change whether it's on our coasts, in wilderness areas or in our very own back gardens.

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Climate change and wildlife fact file

Staying in England - increasing numbers of Blackcaps

* The dawn chorus is coming earlier to our woodlands.

*Great Tits have adapted to climate change by bringing forward breeding time by 15 days.

* The Northern Brown Argus is retreating further north, rather than moving uphill. It has moved between 70 and 100 km further north in the last 20 years.

* Ironically its cousin, the Brown Argus, which was on its northern limits in southern England, is now rapidly expanding east and north. The two species could meet!

* Other extremes of weather like storms may take their toll on wildlife. In the Dark Peak a number of deep gullies have formed - caused by big storms. The impact of this is that the peat has been washed away and the bedrock has been revealed below.

* The Black Cap used to be summer visitors but some birds are now staying in England all year. They're very partial to mistletoe which is helping the spread of these birds.

* The Hummingbird Hawkmoth resembles the Hummingbird. This migrant from the Mediterranean is normally seen occasionally in southern England, but in 2006 it was seen in such large numbers, experts believe it's taken advantage of climate warming and is now resident in England.

* We're also seeing more of some spectacular creatures. Sightings of the world's second-largest fish, the mighty Basking Shark, have increased markedly off the South West of England.

* In July 2006 scientists off Land's End in Cornwall counted 19 warm-water Ocean Sun Fish.

* European White Fronted Geese used to over winter in large numbers at places like Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, but due to increasingly mild winters, numbers are dropping and they're staying on the continent.

Climate change exhibition

Barnacle Geese
Barnacle Geese - fewer visitors in future?

What does climate change mean for life in Britain?

The National Trust challenged ten of the UK's top photographers to answer this question by capturing climate change through the lens.

The result is a new photography exhibition called EXPOSED Climate Change in Britain's Backyard', a series of thought-provoking images taken on location at National Trust's gardens, historic houses, countryside and coastline.

This is the first time that the impact of climate change on the UK has been uncovered in an exhibition.

You'll be able to take a look at how global warming is changing the places we are all familiar with, whilst also taking a look at how we're responding to these challenges.

The exhibition opens in London in April and will then tour nationally throughout 2007, visiting Nottingham Castle from 19 May - 1 July.

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Your Comments

We had a pair of blackcaps, a male and a female, in our garden that we first noticed on Christmas Day. They visited us on a daily basis and fed in the garden until mid–late February... Is this evidence of climate change?
Karin Cotter

I find it annoying when people talk about global warming, especially sea levels rising when they miss out obvious reasons like submarine volcanic activity and New York dumping thousands of tones of rubbish into the sea every week.

These are just a few examples missed out - we can't forget the actions of tectonic plates for what's happening to the East Coast. Why wasn't this mentioned in the programme?
Ken Walters

Just a quick email to say how disappointed I was with tonight's programme. Some of the examples used were totally inaccurate and there didn't seem to be any impartiality.

A couple of points I would like to pick up on:

1. Your presenter suggested that the fossilised forest off the south coast was connected to global warming as they existed when the climate was much colder.

The truth has more to do with geology than global warming. When the ice sheet covered much of England during the last ice age the weight of the ice lifted the south coast much higher above sea level than it is now and ever since the ice age ended it has been slowly sinking again.

2. Much was made of the coastal erosion but long shore drift has been happening all along the east coast for hundreds of years. There are historical records of towns and villages being washed into the sea like Dunwich long before the motorcar or the burning of fossil fuels came along...
Kevin Neal

There's been a bit of an uproar in and around the London are about our Indian Ring Necked parakeets. Apparently with the warmer climate they've been breeding like rabbits.

We've had some spokesmen from the RSPB blaming them for pushing out native bird species by taking over tree-holes for nesting; yet other spokesmen from the RSPB have reccommended we gather more information before jumping to any conclusions.
They are rather a noisy but colourful example of how climate change is affecting our wildlife.

Are the native species of birds being pushed out of their habitats by the parakeets or are the parakeets simply taking advantage of an open niche left by the departing natives? I would hate to see a wholesale cull wiping out these birds only to discover the natives couldn't return because of the climate. We'd be left with no birds at all.

But at least birds can usually fly so the notion of "native" birds is really only applicable on a continental scale. After the last ice age there weren't any birds at all in the UK so even after the channel formed this country was colonised from abroad by "alien" species (somewhat akin to the parakeets?).

As global warming takes off we'll see more than just wild birds being affected. Our whole landscape will change as trees disappear. The beech woodlands of southern England are probably going to disappear (they'll become a feature of Scotland and the north) just as northern birch forests will also decline. We need to think seriously about what will replace them.

Unlike the more mobile birds it normally takes thousands of years for tree species to spread naturally so unless we want a treeless future we're going to have to get out there and plant some new ones.

In the north we'll need to plant traditionally southern trees but what about in the south? If we don't want the New Forest replaced by garden escapee eucalyptus we need to have a plan for the future.

I would prefer in my old age to sit in the shade of a walnut and olive grove listening to the screech of parakeets than sit by a dead tree stump in complete silence.
Steve Brindle

I have no doubt that climate change is occurring but it always has. Having witnessed numerous scare stories over the last 40 years it is very difficult not to be cynical about this latest one. If one believes all the stories it would be a very good thing to kill all the wildebeest in Africa in order to reduce the immense amounts of methane they produce!!

The only good thing to come out of all this is to try and slow down so much conspicuous consumption.
Greg Leadbitter

Has the Loch Ness Monster finally been evicted by a Crocodile ?

Recent sightings of a large object in Loch Ness are nothing new but a recent rush of shocked tourists telling of what they have seen along the shores of Loch Ness have generated a tide of speculation and wonder in the area.

Several reports of a large unidentified creature seen wading along the Loch edge below the Lip'O'Flora viewpoint (the place where Flora MacDonald helped Rob Roy MacGregor escape the English redcoats) near the present day Clansman Hotel have proven to be true. Much as some locals might wish it to be The Loch Ness Monster, it is believed to be a large Floridian crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).

It is thought the reptile may be native to southern Florida and has simply drifted along the path of the Atlantic Gulf Stream before finding its new home in Scotland, or be yet another legacy from the British Pet Animals Act of 1951, which saw the release into the wild of many exotic animals by owners who did not have the facilities to be licensed as responsible 'pet' keepers or traders.

The fact that the temperature in Loch Ness has been steadily increasing in recent years as a result of global warming has ensured the Loch now plays host to a plethora of once unthought of flora and fauna.

The recent discovery by Prof Laoli of Milan University of a vibrant coral reef and the fact the Loch has hot deep-water geological fissures at its depths makes it not surprising that we can now add 'crocodile' to the list of new Scottish settlers.

The crocodile, which is now part of the landscape, has been named Giblean Amhlair, the ancient Scot's name given for a mysterious animal of the deep.

At first the solitary croc (and so far only one has been seen) stayed in the water at a fair distance from the shore, but now is regularly coming on to land and quite readily allows the more confident, including local children, to pat him.

Officials from south Florida are thought to be arranging to travel to Loch Ness over the weekend to establish whether the great Giblean Amhlair is a native of Florida. If so, the decision will then need to be made as to whether the lonesome croc will be repatriated to the USA - something the locals at Loch Ness have said they will not allow (echoing the Elian Gonzalez case of 2000).

Photographs of the crocodile at play have been taken by... the manager of the hotel at Brackla.


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