Climate change impacts in the United Kingdom

Climate change impacts in the United Kingdom - what the IPCC 4th Assessment Report has found:
  • Wetland losses due to sea level rise, land reclamation, changes in wind/wave energy, tidal dynamics (1850s-1990s) Greater Thames estuary [].
  • Around the British Isles: changes to the rocky shore/ intertidal community changes (marine ecosystems) where the composition has shifted significantly in response to warmer temperatures [].
  • Warming has produced northward shifts in the distribution of aquatic insects and fish in Britain [].
  • South-central England 385 species flowering 4.5 days earlier in 1990s [].
  • Butterfly appearance 2.8 to 3.2 days/decade earlier (1976-1998)[]
  • Oxfordshire, long-dist. migration of 20sp. 0.4 later to 6.7 days/decade earlier (1971-2000) []
  • Due to increased temperature 329 species across 16 various taxa: northwards range shift (av. 31-60 km) and upwards ( + 25m) in 25 years. Sign. northwards and elevational shifts in 12 of 16 taxa. Only 3 species of amphibians and reptiles shifted sign. southwards and to lower elevation [].
  • Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) expanded N. margin, at 0.51 to 0.93 km/yr, depending on habitat availability (due to increased temperature) [].
  • 4 northern butterflies (1970-2004) 2 species retreating 73 and 80 km north, 1 sp. retreating 149 m uphill (due to increased temperature) [].
  • 37 dragonfly and damselfly species 36 out of 37 species shifted northwards (mean 84 km), 1960-70 to 1985-95 (due to increased temperature) [].
  • Exotic thermophilous plants spreading into the native flora in Ireland [].
  • Lower hay yields, in relation with warmer summers Rothamsted (1965-1998) []
  • Analysis of available long-term river flow records shows that since 1989 more than half of Scotland’s largest rivers (notably those draining from the west) have recorded their highest flows. Of 16 rivers surveyed, with a median record of 39years, 8 had their maximum flow during 1989-1997 - a period of high North Atlantic Oscillation index values consistent with storm tracks bringing high levels of precipitation to north Britain [].
  • Summer groundwater recharge and streamflow will be reduced up to about 50% from impact of climate change on a chalk aquifer in eastern England (leading to problems concerning water quality, and groundwater withdrawals) [3.4].
  • Coastal squeeze and steepening are widespread as illustrated along the eastern coast of the United Kingdom where 67% of the coastline experienced a landward retreat of the low-water mark over the past century []
  • Some crops that currently grow mostly in S. Europe (e.g. maize, sunflower and soybeans) will become more suitable further north or at higher altitude areas in the south. Projections for a range of scenarios show a 30 to 50% increase in suitable area for grain maize production in Ireland and Scotland by the end of the 21st century [].
From its hidden underwater beauty to its whale-watching waters, the British Isles contain a staggering array of marine wonders. Whitley Bay, north-east England.

Key contacts

WWF work

What WWF is doing on the ground in the United Kingdom to protect against climate change:
WWF UK has drafted a vulnerability assessment proposal for the North-East Atlantic Ocean Marine Ecoregion and a proposal on ocean acidification.

The North-East Atlantic Ocean Marine Ecoregion has been working to develop an approach to ameliorate the impacts of climate change, especially on marine environments.

The programme has conducted a vulnerability analysis that outlines and analyzes the major threats of climate change. These threats include potential changes to the North Atlantic Index, sea surface temperature rise and release of methane hydrates, dissolved oxygen, growing season, amplitude of air temperature range on littoral habitats, thermal stratification, near seabed deoxygenation, salinity, pollutant toxicities, abundance/occurrence of keystone species, life cycle stages, storm surges, nutrient inputs, sea level rise and ocean circulation. The impacts were predicted using climate prediction models, which considered the rate of climate change, the ability to measure changes, the predictability of these changes, and their ecological relevance. The next steps include designing climate change adaptation strategies.

Another area of endeavor within this Ecoregion is participation in the Climate Witness programme.

Climate Witnesses

WWF runs the Climate Witness programme to collect people's local observations of climate change that are then verified by scientists.
Neil Smith lives in the western highlands of Scotland and has a passion for ice climbing. He has observed dramatic changes in the ice and weather conditions.
Cassian Garbett, 45, the last permanent resident in one of the five coastguard cottages near Seaford, on the South coast of England, has witnessed rising sea levels and greater frequency of storms. Extreme weather has destroyed sea defences built up by the army during the war.

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