Let’s be clear – the heatwave has been at least partially caused, and certainly made worse, by climate change. And it is on a different scale across southern and central England than the high temperatures of 1976. These are unprecedented times. In the UK, and globally, we must prepare for an increased frequency of extreme weather events.
Last month, in Lincolnshire, the UK’s highest ever temperature was recorded – 40.3℃ (104.5 ℉). Headlines varied from ‘Hotter than Arizona’ to ‘Climate change is upon us’ but the overwhelming feeling was that business as usual would continue and we had better get used to it.
It is, however, not that simple for UK wildlife. Adapted to a temperate climate, well-known species such as blackbird, robin, song thrush and green woodpecker thrive in a nation of green lawns, frequent showers and modest summer temperatures. But now our bird populations are being impacted by sudden rainfall events that deposit an entire month of rain in less than 48 hours and by temperatures that hit highs commonly associated with north Africa. For species which feed on insects and molluscs, flooding or baked hard ground are extremes that they are ill-equipped for – in both scenarios, their food sources will be in increasingly short supply.
If birds and insects are impacted, it doesn’t take long for species higher up the food chain to be seriously affected. There are early indicators that this drought will lead to the deaths of hedgehogs, voles, shrews, and mice, with knock-on effects on apex predators, for example, birds of prey, foxes and badgers.
The most significant impact of all is on the UK’s vegetation. Our 1,390 native flowering plants in the UK are uniquely adapted, with their associated invertebrates, to the uncertainties of British weather. They are designed to deal with the occasional extended dry spell, a wet summer, a sudden spring snowfall, or unexpected autumn frosts. But most are not able to adapt to extreme temperatures over a protracted period.
So what will the future hold? First, we must get through the current drought, breathe a short sigh of relief, then seriously reconsider what the future looks like. Nature in the UK and globally will change dramatically in the coming decade. Many species will be lost, and other less familiar species will become established in the UK from the European mainland or garden-centres. Some species and landscapes that are as familiar as a towering cathedral or thatched cottage will no longer be the norm. For the UK’s nature, the next few years are full of great uncertainties and potentially unprecedented losses.
How A Rocha UK responds to this crisis and how we journey together with our supporters into a very unnerving future is something we will be exploring in the months to come. But for today, keep praying, keep supplying water for the birds, keep your grass un-mown and keep believing that practical action, even on a small scale, when many of us do it, can make a positive difference.
Sign up to receive future eNews communications here.