This summer, the UK has been hit with yet another heatwave—this one drawing comparisons with the notorious drought of 1976—and as global average temperatures rise, we’re told that events like this will become much more common. But what are the implications for nature?
Some species such as crickets and butterflies, which don’t lay eggs in water, are likely to do well—at least in the short term. Trees, with their extensive root systems, tend to cope better with drought conditions. Many others, however, are adapted to a more ‘normal’ British climate with much more rain than we’ve seen so far this summer. Many birds will need to find supplies of fresh water. House martins, which build their nests out of mud, need extra water to make repairs when the mud dries out and cracks. Amphibians are struggling as ponds and streams dry up and bees, which don’t get all their water from flowers, also need to find water to drink.
The scientific consensus is that droughts and heatwaves will become far more common as climate change continues to accelerate—weather like this summer may well be the norm, rather than the exception, in the 2040s.
Recent storms will have brought temporary respite, but many species will need sustained light rainfall over an extended period of time to see moisture levels return to safe levels.
So what can we do, besides praying for rain? Even when it does rain now, water tables, ponds and streams will likely remain low for some time. The wildlife that comes into our gardens, or past our windowsills, will benefit from some water left out. That could be a birdbath or a saucer of water on a ledge.
If hot, dry summers like this are going to become the norm as our climate warms, we can advocate, too, for our government to ensure it meets its commitments under the Paris agreement. At the moment, progress lags behind stated ambition. Time to invite your MP round for tea in the parched garden?