In the United Kingdom, the National Trust has raised concerns about the significant disruption climate change is causing to natural seasonal patterns. These alterations, resulting from the loss of predictable weather, are leading to increased susceptibility of plants and wildlife to diseases. The Trust’s estates have witnessed the impact of these changes, notably affecting animals, trees, and plants.
Ben McCarthy, Head of Nature and Restoration Ecology at the National Trust, emphasises that while seasonal shifts might seem minor annually, their cumulative effect over a decade is profound. The year 2023 was marked by record-breaking temperatures in June and the highest sea temperatures around the UK’s coast. An unusually warm winter led to the proliferation of pests and diseases. Concurrently, lower rainfalls and higher temperatures resulted in diminished water levels in various water bodies, sparking algal blooms and consequent fish fatalities.
The UK experienced severe storms, including Babet and Ciaran, causing extensive damage. These climatic changes are evident in everyday life, as seen in the prolonged grass mowing season due to warmer, wetter conditions. Early blooming of shrubs, susceptible to sudden cold, affects pollinators and birds reliant on their seeds.
The oak tree, symbolic of the UK, faces significant threats from rising temperatures. Shorter cold spells fail to eliminate diseases, making oaks more vulnerable to pests like the oak processionary moth. This moth species has been migrating northwards from the Mediterranean due to warming climates. Additionally, warmer winters endanger heathlands, facilitating the spread of the heather beetle.
Hibernating animals like dormice are also at risk, emerging earlier from hibernation and depleting their energy reserves. The reproductive patterns of red deer have shifted, with calves born in autumn rather than summer, leading to higher mortality rates.
Despite the UK facing less extreme weather compared to other countries, Keith Jones, National Climate Change consultant at the National Trust, cautions against complacency. He anticipates a future with a mix of droughts, high temperatures, and floods. The Trust advocates for building resilience into the UK’s landscapes and ecosystems.
A notable initiative is the restoration of the river Aller in Somerset, where human modifications have been reversed, allowing the river to meander naturally. This effort aims to slow river flow, increase water retention in the landscape, enhance biodiversity, and bolster carbon storage. The Holnicote Estate has observed a rapid return of nature following the project, signifying the potential positive impact of such ecological interventions.
National Trust. (n.d.). Press release | Media. [online] Available at: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/services/media/weather-and-wildlife-2023 [Accessed 2 Jan. 2024].