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2020 Climate change extremes result in mixed fortunes for wildlife - The National Trust

Extreme weather events including one of the hottest years on record has once again had a huge impact on UK wildlife in 2020 – but many species have also seen a boost due to the absence of people as a result of lockdown, the National Trust said.

Fewer people during the peak breeding season of spring has seen wildlife move in and plants thrive in locations that would ordinarily be considered tourist hotspots.

Peregrine Falcon chicks on stony ledge at Corfe Castle. Credit Neil Davidson
Peregrine Falcon chicks at Corfe Castle. Credit Neil Davidson

This unintended consequence resulted in previously rare sightings of animals, including peregrine falcons nesting in the ancient ruins of Corfe Castle in Dorset, grey partridges wandering in a car park near Cambridge, and a cuckoo at Osterley in west London - having not been heard here for 20 years.

However, extreme weather events as a result of a changing climate impacted numbers and breeding patterns elsewhere.

The storms in June coupled with high tides and strong winds spelt disaster for the little terns at Long Nanny where nests were washed away. This seabird has been in serious national decline since the 1980s with fewer than 2,000 pairs now left in the UK.

The tern colony at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland struggled this year, with numbers of sandwich, arctic and common tern all lower than 2019 due to predation and high tides.

Ben McCarthy, Head of Conservation and Ecology Restoration at the National Trust: “The impacts of climate change are being felt by our wildlife. Already under pressure from pollution, habitat loss and inappropriate management, climate change magnifies many of these pressures. Changes to the seasons and changeable weather can play havoc with our wildlife, knocking the delicate balance of nature out of kilter with serious knock on effects for us all. We are already locked into significant environmental change that means snowy winters will become increasingly rare, whilst extreme events in the summer will add stress to our threatened wildlife. As ever there will be winners and losers - the Dartford warbler and marbled white butterfly increasing their range, whilst our land may be more attractive to migrants like the Clifden nonpareil moth. However, there are more losers than winners with the abundance and distribution of many species continuing to decrease and some groups particularly vulnerable to climate change. At the National Trust we are focusing our efforts on nature’s recovery, not only for its own sake but, as became abundantly clear this year it so important to our own health and well-being."

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