Saturday, November 19, 2005

Fields in Flux

Kathy Podgers provides the following, which I assume originated with Helen Doran (Bob):

Patches of green space are essential for the survival of our wildlife in a shifting climate, says Helen Doran from English Nature. Bumblebees in March, blackberries in June? This year’’s Springwatch and Autumnwatch surveys confirmed the trend of British seasons arriving earlier and earlier. Ripe blackberries were seen on 27 June this summer in some parts of the country, and bees and butterflies are being spotted an average of three weeks earlier than they were 30 years ago.

Climate change presents a series of important and immediate challenges to scientists, policy makers and the public. There is already clear evidence to show that wildlife is being affected by climate change. This includes changes in populations, ranges, migration patterns, and seasonal and reproductive behaviour of certain species.

The RSPB says that last year was the worst breeding season on record for many breeding seabirds on UK shores. This, its ecologists believe, is likely to be linked to the effects of climatic shifts further down the food chain. Sandeels, which are the birds’’ main source of food, are in decline because their own diet of plankton appears to be abandoning our warming coastal waters.

From protected areas through agricultural land to the wildlife habitat in our towns and cities, there are innovative ways of managing resources that can help habitats and species cope better with the inevitable climate change. One of the best solutions is to develop ‘‘ecological links’’ and create a network of river corridors, woodlands, grasslands, parks, allotments and gardens throughout the country to allow species to move between protected sites.

In rural areas, farmers and land managers are already being encouraged through the government’’s Environmental Stewardship Scheme to conserve wildlife and provide them with ecological links by leaving hedgerows and buffer zones around fields, protecting trees, and looking after ditches.

But in towns and cities it is open green space, often managed primarily for recreation, which allows much urban wildlife to survive. English Nature and the London Wildlife Trust are promoting a network of green space in London to help achieve the targets for the long-term protection of species such as the stag beetle and the water vole set out in the London Biodiversity Action Plan and the Mayor’’s Biodiversity Strategy, and to protect the city from the impacts of climate change. We hope to see green roofs, ponds, reedbeds, and ditches to store water to prevent localised flooding, and well designed landscaping schemes to reduce extreme weather conditions by providing shade and shelter.

Wildlife-rich green space is also important for our own health and wellbeing, reducing stress levels and providing opportunities for exercise and recreation. English Nature recommends that no one should have to live more than a five-minute walk from a green space. The new developments associated with the government’’s Sustainable Communities Plan are a great opportunity to design in green space for new communities to provide nice places for people to live and the ecological links needed by wildlife to adapt to a changing climate.

Helen Doran is a sustainability adviser at English Nature. 01733 455206,