Natural order

A recently published report in the scientific journal Nature concluded that the changes we have already seen in the natural world, and which have been brought about by climate change, are likely to continue. This may seem something of an obvious point to make but the report was produced by some of the leading organisations in this field and highlights how wildlife will be affected.

Scientists from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, the Met Office, the Woodland Trust and the BTO, along with many other respected organisations, worked with universities around the world. In all, 17 organisations used data supplied by the likes of Nature's Calendar, information that is provided by volunteers to record the dates of events in the natural world. These observations provided an invaluable resource for scientists to chart the changes taking place.

The findings

The results from the study suggest that seasonal events are more sensitive to temperature changes than to increased rainfall, for example, and that these changes impact on plants and animals differently at different times of the year. The report concluded that the species in the middle of the food chain are most likely to change their seasonal behaviour the most.

Dr Stephen Thackeray, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said: “This is the largest study of the climatic sensitivity of UK plant and animal seasonal behaviour to date. Our results show the potential for climate change to disrupt the relationships between plants and animals, and now it is crucially important that we try to understand the consequences of these changes.”

It’s good to see such a wide-ranging and in-depth study taking place using data over such a significant period of time. No doubt many of us will have noticed how the seasons have changed. Flowers opening sooner, leaves turning earlier in the year and fruit appearing in hedgerows and on trees earlier and earlier. Although this doesn’t impact on us in our daily lives, the impact on wildlife can be significant, and it’s this that the study highlights.

Ones to watch

It seems that the changes will continue with spring flowers opening sooner and autumn events happening earlier in the year. This could cause some wildlife species to change their behaviour, so look for nest building earlier and the appearance of young animals increasingly earlier in the year. As long as food supplies are available (and this is where the impact on the middle part of the food chain is most strongly felt) and there are no periods of bad weather when young are at their most vulnerable, they will hopefully cope.

If you want to record your observations, and in doing so have an input into this vital data source, look for Nature's Calendar online. Both the BTO and RSPB offer opportunities to record bird activities, either on an ongoing basis or as a snapshot on a given day. We should also consider our personal impact on climate change. If it’s your belief that these changes are natural then there is little to be done, but if you feel that man has had an impact you can always look for ways to reduce your own carbon footprint.

It’s great to see such a study being published but it’s sad to realise just how fragile and vulnerable our natural world is. Those of us who enjoy it need to continue to try to protect it and maybe educate others as to its benefits and therefore its true value.

Magazine of the Ramblers