Extreme weather in Cornwall could lead to disappearing beaches and wildlife extinction

  • Watch Charlotte Gay's report

Droughts, wildfires, storms - they are happening more often and could lead to rapid changes to life in Cornwall.

The past 12 months have seen all kinds of extreme weather and a specialist report is encouraging people to prepare for how they’ll live with rising sea levels, extremes in temperatures and changing landscape of the duchy.

It predicts Cornwall could see the sea level rise by up to one metre by the end of the century, showing it has the highest potential sea level rise in the UK.

The report also highlights temperatures potentially rising up by five degrees by the end of the century, as well as more frequent flash floods, stronger storms, and faster coastal erosion.

The report describes rising sea levels, more droughts, higher temperatures and more flooding as some of the effects of climate change. Credit: Climate Change Risk Management

"Climate change is happening now, and we're going to face some pretty major problems," says Professor Stephan Harrison, professor of climate and environmental change at the University of Exeter and lead author on the Cornwall Climate Risk Assessment.

He goes on to say Cornwall's beloved sandy beaches could also shrink and disappear as "big storms will take away much of that".

Stormy weather conditions often lead to more plastics landing on Cornish beaches Credit: ITV News

Pat Smith is a 74-year-old climate activist from Charlestown who picks up plastic from the coastline virtually every day.

Action Nan, as she's nicknamed, engages in the activity because she says it became clear how much society needs to change its behaviour towards the environment.

She said: "There is an amazing disconnect at the moment from knowing what people know about climate change to actually getting around to doing something about it themselves.

"It would be so easy for me knowing I'm not going to be here when the worst of the effects kick in, so it's really not my problem.

"But I believe in legacy, and my legacy to those children are the memory of me trying to do something about it."

Pat has passed on her passion for protecting the environment to her grandchildren; 10-year-old Sam and eight-year-old Jasmine.

Jasmine says she sees "this amazing planet with loads of fantastic animals."

The eight-year-old said: "When I have my children, I want them to see what I see right now."

Cornwall Wildlife trust hopes to release beavers into the wild to better enhance more wetlands and protect homes from flooding. Credit: David Parkyn

Cornwall Wildlife Trust says 12 per cent of species of principal importance are threatened with local extinction and almost a quarter of all terrestrial mammals and butterfly species are at risk thanks in part to climate change.

"We have lost species before in Cornwall" says Cheryl Marriott, Head of Conservation at the Trust.

"There are 21 bird species that used to breed here, which don't anymore, eight species of bee have already gone, and four flowering plants.

"This list will grow if we don't step up, change gear on this, and start to do more to help our wildlife."

Cheryl says it's time to "go big or go home" with protecting nature against the impact of climate change.

"It's hard to comprehend what all that means, and you can start to switch off from it, but species decline eventually becomes extinction."

Buying Creney farm and turning it into a nature reserve was a big win for Cornwall Wildlife Trust in 2022 Credit: Eb & Flow Media

But there is some hope, as the CWT says it was astounded at how quickly it superseded their largest ever fundraiser to expand their nature reserve at Helman Tor and buy Creney Farm.

The plan is now to introduce new beavers to fight the impact of climate change on the wetlands, an area of particular concern, surrounding the Tor near Bodmin.

Cornwall Council commissioned the report to encourage individuals to think about climate adaptation and also big organisations such as the NHS, local government, developers and the farming industry.

Cllr Martyn Alvey, cabinet lead for the environment, says "It's not just about what Cornwall is doing to reduce emissions, it's what Cornwall can expect if other people don't."

He encourages everyone to see what could happen on their doorstep and think about ways to future proof their homes.

“It's not just about storm and rain and flooding, it's also about heat and preparing for heat. In prolonged drought periods, have we got enough water storage in Cornwall?

"Are we using water efficiently so developers might start to consider harvesting rainwater?

"So you have two water systems in your house. One draws your potable water from the mains. The other perhaps is used to flush a toilet and water your garden.”