Natural England
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Survival of UK plants and animals in a changing climate

Action is needed now to prevent the loss of some of the UK's most valued plants and wildlife as a result of climate change, according to a new report launched today (22 May) by Natural England.

The MONARCH report illustrates potential impacts of climate change on some of our most rare or threatened species, under different projected levels of greenhouse gas emissions to the 2080s.

The report is the result of a seven-year research programme, led by Natural England in partnership with conservation bodies throughout the UK. Launching the report at Hainault Forest, on International Biodiversity Day, Environment Minister Barry Gardiner said:

"Climate change is the most serious threat to biodiversity in the 21st Century. It is already happening and its impacts will continue for decades to come. We need to take action now to ensure that our plants and wildlife are able to adapt.

Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, said: "In order to help species migrate and adapt to climate change in a managed environment there is a pressing need for land mangers and farmers to start to work with us to look at ways of adapting their practices and land to help create new habitats.

"We need to start planning now so that super eco-highways to link existing habitats with new ones are in place when we will desperately need them. This requires a new partnership between Britain's farmers and Natural England to use existing farmland in a creative way."

Mr Gardiner continued: "Everyone can join in the effort to conserve the UK's biodiversity by reducing their carbon dioxide emissions. This could be as simple as not leaving TVs on standby or turning off lights when they are not being used."

Mr Gardiner also launched "Conserving biodiversity in a changing climate", guidance which explains six key strategies that can be used now by land managers, to help wildlife adapt to climate change. The guidance recommends that to allow species to find new homes as climate changes, it will be necessary to manage entire landscapes, not just the protected sites where species now occur.

Climate Change and Environment Minister, Ian Pearson said:

"Climate change is already a reality - action must be taken now if we are not to see a deeper decline in global biodiversity.

"MONARCH highlights the need to consider biodiversity issues in all adaptation planning across the UK. Successful adaptation measures for nature conservation need decades to become effective. That is why adaptation planning must start now. This must be combined with meaningful international efforts to reduce emissions, such as investment in clean energy technologies and action to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency."

Key findings of the MONARCH report:

The MONARCH programme studied the projected change in suitable climate for 120 rare or threatened species that are currently being conserved through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. 32 of these were explored in detail and it was found that a majority are likely to experience changes in the location and/or extent of areas where the climate will meet their requirements:

The areas of suitable climate may become much reduced across much of Britain and Ireland, for eight of them, including birds (common scoter, song thrush, black grouse, capercaillie) and plants (twinflower and oblong woodsia) that may as a result become increasingly, and potentially seriously, threatened.
Six may have to move northwards if they are to survive; stag beetle, Barbastelle bat, tower mustard, cornflower, cut-grass and floating water plantain.
Fifteen may be able to extend their range as the climate becomes more suitable for them across a wider area, including turtle dove, pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, greater horseshoe bat, red hemp-nettle, and small-flowered catchfly.
This illustrates the urgent need to reduce habitat fragmentation and so ensure that species are able to disperse and establish in new locations as the climate changes.

Changes to where species may find the climate suitable will be more severe unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut. If emissions can be reduced, the risk of extinction is reduced for those at risk of losing climatically suitable areas in Britain and Ireland.

Case studies

Song Thrush - projected loss of areas where it will find suitable climate
The song thrush is present throughout Britain and Ireland. Hotter, drier summers are thought to have contributed to the decline of the song thrush in the south east of its UK range because drought reduced the numbers of snails, slugs and earthworms, that it feeds on. Significant loss of suitable climate space in southern England is projected to occur later this century. Under the 2080s High greenhouse gas emission scenario the impact may be dramatic, affecting most of England, Wales and Ireland.

Stag Beetle - shift in areas where it will find suitable climate
This beetle is confined to southern England in the UK as it is at the northern edge of its range. However, it has historically been recorded across England as far north as Cumbria. An expansion of suitable climate space is projected across most of Britain and Ireland under the High greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Some of the existing distribution, including strongholds of the species in south east England, are projected to be lost as a hotter and drier climate develops.

Greater horseshoe bat - projected gain in areas where it will find suitable climate
Within Britain, the greater horseshoe bat is confined to southwest England and south and west Wales, while being absent from Ireland. Individuals have been recorded as travelling up to 180 km. Recent records show that individual bats from south Wales colonies are overwintering in north Wales so there is likely to be potential for establishment of new breeding colonies at distance. The projected extension of climate space across Britain and Ireland contrasts with the distinctly south-western distribution at present.

Notes for editors:

1. The MONARCH (Modelling Natural Resource Responses to Climate Change) a synthesis for biodiversity conservation report is the result of a seven-year partnership programme, lead by the government's wildlife advisor Natural England. It was developed by 15 partner organisations across Britain and Ireland, including governmental agencies and NGOs working together. A list of partners can be found on the report at  

2. MONARCH's findings are informative signposts rather than predictions of the future. This assessment of UK Biodiversity Action Plan species only highlights potential changes in the location of suitable climate due to direct impacts of climate change. There are many indirect impacts of climate change such as changes in the agriculture, forestry, water resource, spatial planning, and coastal management sectors, which will also affect biodiversity.

3. "Conserving Biodiversity in a changing climate" lead by John Hopkins of Natural England and Hilary Allison of the Woodland Trust, is aimed at those who plan and carry out management of terrestrial biodiversity. The guidelines promote a more dynamic way of setting conservation targets, as species move and habitats change, as well as a landscape scale approach to planning conservation actions, which allows change to occur. The report is available at  

4. Hainault Forest is a wood-pasture site in Redbridge where the Woodland Trust has created additional woodland adjacent to the existing, ancient wood, exemplifying the guidance to improve habitat connectivity and landscape resilience through restoration.

5. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan is delivered through 436 national Action Plans for habitats and species of particular conservation concern. Climate change in particular, and other environmental changes, underline the need for a long-term, ecosystem-based approach. This is a long term agenda, requiring a relationship between economic and environmental performance, in line with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

For more information please contact the Natural England press office on 0845 603 9953 or 07970 098005.

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