East Anglia: Research reveals the impact of climate change on our wildlife

Barn Owl in Wingfield

Barn Owl in Wingfield

The extent to which East Anglia’s coastline and wildlife are under threat from climate change and extreme weather has been outlined in a new report.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) have helped produce the report which shows how birds, bugs, butterflies, plants and some mammals are in decline as extreme weather, climate change and man’s desire for land combine.

Five researchers from UEA were among 40 of the country’s top environmental scientists chosen to produce the Terrestrial Biodiversity Climate Change Impacts Report Card.

The data claims last year was the worst breeding year on record for birds, with the cold weather causing three times more barn owls to die than usual, 70% of butterfly species are in decline and hedgehog numbers have fallen from 36 million in 1950 to just one million today.

Dr Hannah Mossman and Professor Alastair Grant, from UEA’s school of environmental sciences, together with Professor Anthony Davy, from the school of biological sciences, produced a report detailing how climate change is affecting coastal habitats, with rising sea levels threatening saltmarshes, cliffs, coastal grazing marsh and sand dunes.

Dr Mossman said: “These predicted sea level rises will result in significant losses to coastal habitats. Soft cliffs are particularly vulnerable, such as in Suffolk where cliffs are retreating at a rate of up to 4.7metres per year.

“The recent wet winter in East Anglia has made things particularly bad – it has led to increased erosion.”

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Prof Grant said much of the East Anglian coastline is low-lying so more vulnerable to coastal flooding.

“This land includes homes, as well as important grade one agricultural land and conservation areas such as Cley marshes,” he added.

“As a result of this there have been many managed realignment schemes in the area, including at Brancaster, and Tollesbury and Wallasea Island in Essex, creating new saltmarsh habitat, which can act as a flood defence.”

A report on invertebrate fauna shows warmer temperatures have led to new species colonising in East Anglia from Europe such as the southern emerald and willow emerald damselflies.

Dr Mossman said: “The first known record of the newly-colonising willow emerald damselfly was from Suffolk in 2009. It has gone on to colonise areas of Norfolk, Essex and Kent.”

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