View of sea defences, Wallasea Island RSPB reserve, Essex, England, January 2012

RSPB action to help wildlife adapt

Posing a series of questions about how nature conservation should respond to climate change has helped us shape and define the wider scope for conservation adaptation.

Tough questions, rough answers

Our 20 Tough Questions, 20 Rough Answers report explores many of the key directions we are pursuing in the adaptation of the nature conservation to climate change.

At the core, is the twin track approach of building both resilience and accommodation to climate change. Through increasing resilience, we aim to put species and habitats, nature reserves and landscapes, in the best possible condition today, to be best able to respond to the pressures of tomorrow.

As well as actions which address climate change impacts specifically, this also means doing more to tackle the non-climate pressures which still threaten so much of our wildlife.

We must also help to accommodate change in wildlife's response to climate change. The considerable expected range shifts of species, which we are already starting to see, will only happen if the other conditions species require are also present. We need to work towards a more coherent network of protected sites, linked within more wildlife-friendly, more sustainably managed landscapes. The RSPB’s nature reserves and Futurescapes landscape scale programme help to deliver this.

The 20 Questions report covers many other key issues climate change adaptation is raising, including the significance of species conservation, the critical role for protected areas, the importance of working at the landscape scale, the relevance of the nature conservation legislation and much more.

Group of golden plovers silhouetted in flight

Practical action

From landscape scale conservation delivery to computer-based scientific projections, we are engaged in a wide range of activities, developing appropriate adaptation to climate change.

Futurescapes is taking our nature conservation delivery forward at the landscape scale. We have nearly 40 Futurescapes projects across the UK, most with a nature reserve at its heart and working with neighbours and partners towards more integrated, more sustainable wider land management.

Our plans for our reserves

We've got ambitious adaptation plans at our nature reserves.

Lakenheath was created to provide reedbed habitat for bitterns and associated fenland wildlife safe from sea level rise, which is threatening their current coastal strongholds.

Our Wallasea Island wild coast project is the largest inter-tidal habitat creation project in Europe, providing wetlands in the face of coastal squeeze and bringing adaptation benefits to people as well as to wildlife.

How our existing management is changing

Our ongoing management of existing reserves is also adapting.

We're using regional climatic projections for a 2°C average global temperature increase, as well as on-the-ground changes, to help us adjust our management aims and activities in the most appropriate manner.

Already, wetland reserves in south-east England are suffering from drier summers. Management is focusing on retaining wetland features, yet accepting some partial drying between the core areas in drier years, which may vary in extent between years.

Creating reservoirs, reducing water seepage losses, employing water recirculation systems and integrated catchment management are among a range of practical techniques increasingly used to retain water availability for wetlands. Alongside these measures, wetland creation is targeted in areas expected to have ample rainfall in the future.

Learning more

Knowing more about the impact of future climate conditions on species and sites is central to developing effective adaptation.

We have gained initial, broad information about the potential impact of climate change on birds through partnership research with Cambridge and Durham universities.

We've developed computer projections for the changing location of suitable climate conditions for Europe's breeding birds, and the averaged results, for a 3°C average global temperature increase, are eye-opening.

We may expect potential range shifts of almost 550 km - a 20 per cent contraction in the area of suitable climate conditions. There is only 40 per cent overlap with current range and 75 per cent of species are likely to experience losses of range.

Other science projects help us to understand more specific details about the mechanisms by which climate change affects species, which can suggest potential adaptation actions.

Our investigations

We've studied the impact on golden plover chicks of changes in numbers and timing of emergence of their crane fly food, and how this is affected by climate change. We're looking at how to adapt lapwing management to drier summers and options for black grouse, as a 'trailing edge' species at the southern end of a climate envelope that's projected to shift north.

We're also involved in more generic projects, including the dynamics of range expansion for habitat specialists, which may help to inform future habitat restoration and creation and impacts on elements of the protected site network. 

This knowledge has helped us make assessments for generic actions for our priority species. These focus on habitat management and reducing key stresses for building resilience; and habitat creation, landscape scale action and translocation for developing accommodation.