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Birds face climate change crisis

Climate change means that many birds will seek cooler climes further north.

When most of us think of climate change we often imagine melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and sweltering summers. However it’s not just the landscapes that will be changing. Our skies could alter dramatically as the hotter temperatures push birds further north and some to the brink of extinction.

This devastating prediction could all too soon become a reality, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The charity’s information comes from a climatic atlas of European breeding birds, which maps potential changes in distribution of Europe’s nesting birds. It shows that we need urgent action to slow down climate change and must redouble our efforts for nature conservation, if we are to avoid calamitous impacts on birds, the charity says.

As temperatures rise, most of Europe’s birds will seek cooler climes further north and some breeds will sadly face extinction. The RSPB says many species will shift nearly 550km northeast, equivalent to the distance from Plymouth to Newcastle, because of soaring temperatures. Alarmingly, the atlas shows that three-quarters of all of Europe’s nesting bird species are likely to suffer declines in range.

This potentially disastrous vision for the future of wildlife, which could set some species on a path to extinction, has hastened calls for urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to help wildlife adapt to a rapidly warming world, the RSPB says.

The estimates used in the atlas are based upon a model of climatic change which projects an increase in global average temperature of about 3C since pre-industrial times. According to the RSPB, any rise above 2C is disastrous for wildlife and mankind.

Professor Rhys Green, an RSPB scientist, says: “Climatic change and wildlife’s responses to it are difficult to forecast with any precision, but this study helps us to appreciate the magnitude and scope of possible impacts and to identify species at most risk and those in need of urgent help and protection.”

If these devastating changes happen some species, including the black-throated diver, snow bunting, capercaillie and dotterel, could be left with few areas of suitable climate in the UK. Unless we act now to protect them and ensure birds can find suitable habitats in the future, this could significantly increase their risk of extinction.

The RSPB says it is imperative that efforts are increased to look after existing protected areas and to extend their coverage in the future to accommodate changes in potential distributions.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, says: “We must heed the wake-up call provided by this atlas and act immediately to curb climate change. Anything above an average rise of 2C risks catastrophic impacts for wildlife.

“But some level of climate change is now inevitable and we must help wildlife become resilient to the worst impacts by increasing investment in creating larger areas for nature and making the countryside more wildlife-friendly, to allow species to move to areas where the climate becomes suitable.
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