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Native Plants and Climate Change

Our native plants and habitats are already under stress due to habitat degradation and fragmentation, together with the impacts of alien invasive species.  Human-induced climate change is expected to put species of flora and fauna, and thus ecosystems, under further stress.

Although the extent and severity of climate change effects on ecosystems cannot be accurately predicted, in Britain, a migration northwards of many species is expected as the warmer climate conditions of the south spread further north.  As a result, this is likely to change the distribution and composition of plant and animal communities throughout the country.  The timing of biological events (phenology) is also expected to vary, with earlier spawning of certain amphibians and egg laying of certain bird species already having been observed over the past few decades.  

The anticipated effects of climate change are summarised below:

  • Direct effects - some native species will become more common, while others will become rarer or even extinct, since many plants and animals can successfully reproduce and grow only within a specific range of temperatures and respond to specific amounts and seasonal patterns of precipitation.  In Britain, sedentary species at the southern edge of their natural range, such as the ptarmigan, are particularly vulnerable to a warming climate.
  • Indirect effects - the intensity of natural events such as storms and wildfires is likely to increase and have a greater impact on biodiversity.  In Britain, stronger winds and more flooding could dramatically change the nature of certain habitats and their ability to support certain species of flora and fauna.
  • Impacts of climate change will depend on other significant processes such as habitat loss and fragmentation (or unification).  The occurrence and impacts of non-native species, particularly invasive ones, are also likely to become more significant as the climate changes.

On all aspects of climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides an objective source of information on the subject.

Recommendations to reduce the climate change-related impacts on biodiversity are summarised below:

  • Appropriately manage existing habitats that have a high conservation value in order to retain their important features.
  • Increase the size of existing important habitats such as ASNW, preferably through natural regeneration.
  • Alter land uses over the landscape scale in order to create a mosaic of different habitats that support the widest range of species possible.
  • Link up existing habitats by creating corridors of a similar habitat type, e.g. plant woodlands and/ or hedgerows between existing isolated woodlands in order to allow species migrations between them.
  • Continue to restrict the spread of invasive non-native species, and eradicate them wherever possible.

    Encouraging the growth and migration of native species will improve the resilience of ecosystems and increase the chances of native flora and fauna to naturally adapt to climate change.  Some species may do less well than others, but many of our native plants are found in warmer climates within continental Europe, and need the best possible conditions in order to adapt to changes in local climatic conditions.

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