COP27: How the RSPB is future-proofing its oldest nature reserve in Dungeness to shield wildlife

  • Tap to watch a video report by ITV Meridian's Malcolm Shaw exploring how the RSPB are protecting wildlife from climate change in Kent

Conservationists in the South East are exploring ways to future-proof nature reserves to protect wildlife ahead of climate change.

The RSPB has installed man-made islands amongst its lagoons at Dungeness peninsula, its oldest nature reserve, which dates back to 1930.

Experts hope it'll shield the homes of iconic birds like the Marsh Harrier and the Skulking Bittern so they can feed and nest, as they've already seen huge fluctuations in temperatures and water levels.

Craig Edwards, from the RSPB Dungeness, said: “What we’re trying to do and what Dungeness has historically been good for is sea birds - from terns to gulls. We want to ensure there’s plenty of habitat available for them, whatever the conditions will allow.

Shingle islands are being created at RSPB Dungeness to protect the habitats of endangered birds

"We had some areas which were completely underwater every year, we had other island areas on site that were inundated for longer periods especially with higher winter rainfall and so they’d be exposed for very short periods, so they just weren’t performing well for the habitat and the species that were here.

"We’re already looking at what we can do next to raise the habitat as a lot of them were designed at a phase when we weren’t having these extremes of water level.”

East Sussex Wildlife Rescue say our mammals are feeling the effects of climate change already. They had to treat many hedgehogs suffering dehydration from the extreme heat.

Trevor Weeks told ITV Meridian: "Hedgehogs are quite delicate animals anyway, so it doesn’t take much to upset the balance with them.

"Anything which effects that base level of the food chain will have a knock on effect to the larger animals - be that hedgehogs, foxes or badgers.

"So that really extreme hot weather will stop the availability of a lot of these insects, slugs and snails for example because its too hot for them."

Hedgehogs were found to be the most fierce against members of their own species

Trevor thinks the problem is that our wildlife relies on evolution to change the way it adapts,but climate change is just happening too quickly.

"Normally you’d expect slow changes to happen over 1000s of years," he added. "This is happening way too quickly, so our animals are struggling to adapt.

“They don’t think about things in the same way humans do, they don’t think ‘Oh climate change is happening so these insects aren’t around at the right time for me so therefore I'll change when I have my young’.

“They automatically think oh this is the right time of year, it’s heating up, we must be coming into the spring, therefore it’s the right time of year to have my young.”

Sightings of Dolphins and Porpoises have become more frequent along the South Coast in recent years.  Researchers are studying how they'll adapt to changes in their marine habitat.

Thea Taylor, from the Sussex Dolphin Project, said: "The concern with us isn’t how much it’ll physically affect the dolphins, but what we are concerned about is the food they’re chasing.

"Stuff like the herring and mackerel especially in the late summer and early winter season, whether they may move to the colder water, so impact where the dolphins are going.

"So we may see them less we may see them more, we’re collecting data to try and better understand how it’ll impact the dolphins, because we still don’t really know."

Credit: Sara Humphrey

Our changing climate has made continental species like Great White Egrets frequent visitors, while once common birds such as Tree Sparrows have disappeared at Dungeness. 

Sara Humphrey from RSPB England says the government must make nature a priority.

"We absolutely want to see economic growth, but we think there’s ways of doing that in harmony with the environment.

"You can look at green-growth options, you can look at eco-tourism, there are so many ways of growing the economy and protect nature at the same time.

“It’s critically important we do that, because without that there will be no growth. We need those services to be able to flourish and prosper."