Belfast Telegraph

Rare breeding birds in Northern Ireland face being wiped out by climate change: report

By Eamon Sweeney

Climate change threatens to make many of Northern Ireland's rare breeding birds extinct, wildlife experts have warned.

Rising temperatures will result in "significant changes" in the composition and distribution of our bird communities.

The stark finding is contained in a report published today entitled The State of the UK's Birds.

It said many of the UK's species are already being affected by climate change as a result of average summer temperatures increasing by one degree centigrade since the 1980s.

Dr Neil McCulloch, an ornithologist at the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, said: "This year's report summarises the evidence that climate change is having an increasing impact on our bird populations.

"This means we can expect to see significant changes in the composition and distribution of Northern Ireland's bird communities and in their behaviour.

"It also alerts us to the fact that conservation planning for the future will have to take climate change into account."

Climate change means migratory birds are arriving earlier in the UK each spring and leaving later each autumn.

And the behaviour and number of birds here is changing.

The report illustrates how species' distributions are moving northwards, shifting as temperatures rise and their habitats change as a consequence.

This means many rarer breeding birds are at a high risk of extinction because the climate will be less suitable for them.

In many cases for species like the dotterel, whimbrel, common scooter and Slavonian grebe, found in the northern reaches of the UK, population decline has already been considerable.

However, there is positive news with the report predicting that some species that currently only have a small presence here will have greater chances to colonise and expand because of the warmer climate.

Birds such as the quail, little egret, hobby, Mediterranean gull, little bittern and zitting cisticola may stay in Britain as continental Europe becomes too warm and dry for them. Resident species such as great tits and wrens appear to be benefiting strongly from milder winters.

Their numbers have risen most notably in Northern Ireland, followed by Scotland, Wales and England.

For example, the great tit is laying its eggs 11 days earlier than it did 40 years ago and the report's authors say this is an obvious and major change that shows common wildlife is already being affected by climate change.

Dr Daniel Hybrow, the lead author of the report, said: "One of the most familiar summer visitors, the swallow, which comes from southern Africa each year, is arriving back in the UK 15 days earlier than it did in the 1960s.

"And other migratory birds such as garden warblers and whitethroats are now spending up to four weeks longer in the UK every year."

Dr McCulloch added: "In addition to addressing the causes of climate change we need to ensure that both our protected areas and the wider countryside are able to provide suitable conditions to accommodate both retreating and expanding species, giving threatened species at the southern edge of their range the greatest chance of remaining while also providing suitable habitat for species expected to spread northward.

"This will undoubtedly be challenging."

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