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Glasgow 2001 Wednesday, 5 September, 2001, 23:13 GMT 00:13 UK
Warming effect on UK wildlife
Butterfly BBC
By BBC News Online's Helen Briggs

Climate warming is changing the face of the British countryside, scientists said on Wednesday.

Butterflies are moving northwards as the climate gets more benign and exotic fish are swimming closer to southern shores.

The next generation of British schoolchildren could see new butterflies arrive from Europe, said Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at the University of Leeds.

A marine biologist predicted that southerly fish such as sea bream would become commonplace off Devon and Cornwall.

Already there is evidence that some butterflies are adapting to warmer climes by adopting new habitats, Professor Thomas told the British Association Science Festival in Glasgow.

'Expanding north'

Some butterflies had changed their physiology as a result of climate change, he said.

A butterfly called the silver-spotted skipper, previously confined to sunny south-facing slopes was now able to take up new pastures as temperatures got warmer.

In the past two decades, the butterfly had expanded its range, he said. It had developed bulkier muscles for flight, with a 10-20% increase in muscle mass.

Another butterfly that had been steadily spreading north since 1990 was the speckled wood. Experts believe the butterfly will have colonised most of England and Scotland by the year 2099.

"A range of species which used to be solely in the south east are expanding north," said Professor Thomas.

He said butterflies such as the black-veined white and the mazarine blue, last seen in Britain 100 years ago, could reappear in the UK.

"There might already be continental species that could get a foothold in south-east England if they got across the channel," he said. "We would expect to see some continental species coming in. Predicting when that might happen is difficult."

Continental catch

Another scientist spoke of changes in fish stocks off south-west England related to rises in sea temperatures.

Professor Steve Hawkins, of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, said fish common in more southerly waters were starting to turn up in nets off Britain.

"You will start to see more of the kinds of fish you see in Portugal and Spain - pilchards, red mullet, sea bream," he said.

Pilchard catches off Plymouth had increased from 500 tonnes to 5,000 tonnes since 1980, he said. Sea bream were also increasing in number.

The pattern of limpets seen on the British seashore had also changed in recent years, he added. There are two common types of limpet - a northern one, found between the Arctic and Portugal, and a southern one, found between Wales and North Africa.

Professor Hawkins said the southern limpet had multiplied by more than 20-30% since the 1980s. At many UK locations, more than half of limpets were of the southern type.

"I'm convinced that the limpets show the seas are warming and it is a long-term trend," he said.

See also:

02 Mar 01 | Science/Nature
12 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
Links to more Glasgow 2001 stories are at the foot of the page.


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