Black Grouse by Chris Gomersal

Birds and Climate Change in Wales

Last updated: 27 October 2009

How will our bird species fare as the climate of Wales changes?

The Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds predicts that the potential distribution for the average bird species will shrink by 20% and shift 550km North East by the end of this century.

Black grouse and redshank could lose their climate space in Wales completely and, unless we act decisively to curb climate change, we could potentially lose both species from Wales. The picture is equally bleak for red grouse and for a recent Welsh arrival - the osprey.

The Dartford warbler was restricted in the UK to the South and East of England, where its numbers were badly hit by cold winters in the 1960's and again in 1981.

It first nested in Wales in 1996 and has since spread from Gwent to the Gower. It's possible that if there's suitable habitat, it will continue to spread throughout Wales as the climate warms.

Despite a shift in climate space, we cannot assume that birds will move to fill these new areas. Turtle dove and corn bunting, for example, are predicted to expand their UK range.

Unless the factors which caused their recent disappearance from Wales are dealt with, a change in climate is unlikely to bring them back.

We not only have to mitigate against climate change but equally have to provide opportunities for wildlife to adapt to changing climate.

It will be the availability of good quality habitat that will decide the fate of black grouse, and breeding waders such as the redshank, lapwing and curlew etc, rather than just the shift in their climate space.

Some of our garden birds are also feeling the effects of climate change. Many of our goldfinches go to southern Europe for the winter, but in recent years, as temperatures in Wales have increased, so have the numbers of goldfinches seen in gardens each January during the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch.

Conversely, the changing climate seems to be having a negative impact on blue tits. In the last 40 years they have begun laying eggs earlier and earlier. This means they are increasingly out-of-sync with the appearance of caterpillars.

2007 was a particularly bad year for blue tits, as May to July was the wettest in England and Wales for more than 200 years. Heavy rain washed caterpillars off leaves, making food even harder to find.

Carolyn Davies


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