East Anglian coastline and biodiversity under threat from climate change

East Anglian coastline and biodiversity under threat from climate change Credit: PA Images

Experts from the University of East Anglia have helped put together a new report looking at how extreme weather is affecting our countryside.

Five researchers from the UEA, including Dr Hannah Mossman were among a group of top scientists chosen to look into climate change.

It reveals how birds, bugs, butterflies, plants and some mammals are in free fall decline - as extreme weather, climate change and man's desire for land combine to make this one of the worst times ever for British wildlife.

The full report shows that last year was the worst breeding year on record for birds, the cold snap caused three times more Barn Owls to perish, 70 per cent of butterfly species are in decline, the UK only has two per cent of its wildflower meadows left, and hedgehogs are disappearing as fast as the tiger - dropping from 36 million in 1950 to just one million today.

The number of hedgehogs are disappearing as fast as the tiger - dropping from 36 million in 1950 to just one million Credit: PA Images

The UEA researchers produced two of 15 scientific reviews underpinning the report, which will be used to advise government policy makers, land managers and environmental consultants on the current evidence of climate-induced changes to habitats and species. The report has also been used as part of a special Channel 4 News series looking at the impacts of climate change on Britain's Green and Pleasant Land.

Dr Hannah Mossman and Prof Alastair Grant from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences, together with Prof Anthony Davy from the school of Biological Sciences, produced a comprehensive overview of how climate change is threatening the UK's coastal habitats. Meanwhile Dr Mossman, along with environmental scientists Dr Aldina Franco and Dr Paul Dolman, revealed how climate change is altering our invertebrate fauna.

The UEA report on coastal habitats shows how rising sea levels are threatening salt marshes, cliffs, coastal grazing marsh and sand dunes.

The report shows how 17 per cent of the UK coastline is eroding and that sea levels are predicted to rise even further - particularly in East Anglia and in the south. By 2095 the sea level is predicted to have increased by up to 70 cm in London.

"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 4.7 meters per year. "The recent wet winter in East Anglia has made things particularly bad - it has led to increased erosion and a rapid retreat of the cliffs and dunes all around the east coast."

A second UEA report shows how the UK is rich in invertebrate biodiversity, with more than 24,000 species of insect alone. But warmer temperatures have led to new species colonising southern England from continental 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 Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and north Kent. The Southern Emerald was first spotted in the UK in Norfolk in 2002."

The report reveals how climate change has also made the UK suitable for new pest species, such as the Oak Processionary moth. And further temperature rises will make the UK suitable for a large number of other pest species.

The full report was compiled by the Living With Environmental Change Partnership (LWEC) and partner include Defra, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the Environment Agency and Natural England.