Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Stormy times...

The UK's climate seems to have taken a dramatic turn for the worse over the past couple of months.  We have been hit by violent storms with strong winds and, more recently, flooding in southern areas.  This has already caused a huge amount of damage to human populations but wildlife has also suffered significantly.

Natural England have reported that at least 48 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) have been affected and 37 of these are of international importance.  Coastal areas are obviously more vulnerable and  flooding has extended over 4500 hectares of designated coastal reserves in areas including Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, Norfolk and Suffolk.  Species that have been affected by this weather include seal pups as initial reports suggest that 170 may have been swept away from colonies on the north Norfolk coast.  Otters are also vulnerable to physical damage from these storms and some many seabirds have died through pure exhaustion and inability to access food.

 These case are worrying in themselves but there is greater concern over the long-term effects of this flooding on freshwater habitats through breaching of sea walls.  This influx of salt-water will cause a dramatic decline in insect species which of course affects those animals that rely on them, such as wading birds.  Bitterns are an example of an endangered bird species (red status on the RSPB) that is particularly vulnerable to these habitat changes as they rely on freshwater reedbeds in which to breed and these have already been damaged, e.g. the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's Cley Marshes nature reserve.

Suffolk Wildlife reserve
The climate is changing so this will not be the only instance of flooding that the UK will have to face. Therefore, many organisations, such as the Wildlife Trusts, are proposing for more natural solutions to control flooding that are likely to be more sustainable.  This involves restoring habitats such as upland bogs and moors, woodlands, wetlands and species-rich grasslands, which are more effective at absorbing and holding water.  Rivers should also be reconnected to their floodplains.  There have already been examples of how effective this method is, such as in upland areas where drainage ditches have been blocked and overgrazing reduced.  This has allowed for the growth of sphagnum mosses and heather which hold water in the hills for longer and reduce peak flows downstream during high rainfall.

As is often the case, reverting back to the way nature intended is the only way we are going to survive Nature's next test.

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