Biodiversity and Climate Change - a summary of impacts in the UK

Biodiversity and Climate Change front cover

Plants coming into leaf and flowering earlier, butterflies appearing earlier in the spring, migratory birds arriving earlier and leaving later – all evidence of how climate change is impacting biodiversity – plants, animals and habitats – in the UK.   


The evidence behind these headlines has been set out in a new booklet, Biodiversity and Climate Change – a summary of impacts in the UK showing the changes to biodiversity in our marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments.


What sort of impacts?


For some species the timing of key events in their life cycle has changed: common frogs are spawning earlier and golden plover are laying their eggs earlier in the year.  The evidence for this comes from work done by many naturalists over many years (some records go back to the 18th century) and collated by the UK Phenological Network.   Atlantic salmon numbers are showing signs of decline in some places.  This Since the 1970s the comma butterfly has spread northwards, consistent with increasing temperatures © Helen Bakeris linked to the time of year the young fish (smolt) leave the rivers for the seas.  It seems that by setting out to sea too early the colder waters are badly affecting their ability to survive.


Some species have shifted their distribution, usually northwards or uphill, in response to changes in climate such as temperature or rainfall.  Plankton species are now found far further north in the NE Atlantic than they have been.  The comma and the Essex skipper butterflies have spread northwards.  The mountain ringlet, another butterfly, is losing out as it has no place to expand in to in its upland habitats.


The number of individuals of some species is declining.  Cold water species such as acorn barnacles are now less abundant and, at the other extreme, populations of some alpine plants cover less area than they did.


Why does it matter?


Biodiversity is a key part of the natural environment which in turn delivers the goods and services people need and enjoy (water, food, etc).  The natural environment also provides other less obvious services: for example, it helps regulate greenhouse gases.


A lot of carbon is locked up in the fabric of our natural environment – including in soils, in the sea as well as in the bodies of plants and animals.  The way we use the environment will affect how much of that carbon stays locked up and how much is released (in gaseous form) into the atmosphere with the potential to cause more climate change.


Biodiversity has an important role to play in helping us adapt to and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.   The more we understand about the ongoing impacts of climate change, the better able we will be to address this ongoing challenge.


Contact File


Deborah Procter

Climate Change and Energy Adviser

(On behalf of the Inter Agency Climate Change Forum)

Tel: +44 (0)1733 866809

| JNCC - Adviser to Government on Nature Conservation | Site Map | Search | Legal | Feedback | List Access Keys |