Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Climate 'hitting Europe's birds'

Cirnbunting - current Cirnbunting - projected

Climate change is already having an impact on European bird species, according to British scientists.

Details of the study by an international team of researchers have been published in the journal Plos One.

Some birds are expected to do well as temperatures rise, but these are in the minority, the researchers write.

"Overall, the trend is towards net loss," said a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which contributed to the study.

Strong Link

The researchers found birds that are expected to do well as temperatures rise had indeed increased in number since the 1980s.

But some 75% of species studied by the researchers had declined in the same period.

The study compared the change in population numbers of bird species over the last two decades with the projected change in their ranges and found a strong link.

Lapwings - current Lapwings - projected

These shifts in species territory are thought to be associated with climate change.

Of the 122 species included in the study (out of 526 species that nest in Europe), 30 are projected to increase their range, while the remaining 92 species are anticipated to experience a contraction in their territory.

Rising temperatures

The latter group includes the lapwing, currently found throughout the UK as well as much of western Europe. That however, is predicted to change with the Lapwing disappearing from areas of southern Europe as temperatures change.

The scientists developed a measure, which they call the climate change indicator, to describe how changes in temperature are affecting species.

Rising temperatures are likely to have a positive effect on some species, said co-author Dr Stephen Willis, from Durham University. This means some birds are likely to extend their ranges north.

That means some mainland species could colonise the British Isles if they continue to respond to climatic warming in the way the models predict, and in the absence of other barriers such as the ability to disperse and the lack of suitable habitat.


The Cirl bunting, for example, already has a small presence in the UK, in the south west but as the map above shows, is projected to spread much further across the country.

Scottish crossbill - current Scottish crossbill - projected

These potential colonists include the great reed warbler, the subalpine warbler and the bee-eater.

One UK species, the Scottish crossbill, could face extinction, the RSPB warned. The crossbill's range is already restricted to the Caledonian pine forests of Scotland.

"We need to redouble our efforts," said the RSPB spokesman, "for a G8 nation to lose a species is shameful."

The spokesman said preserving pine forests could be crucial to the survival of the crossbill.

The study was the work of researchers from Durham University, Cambridge University, the RSPB, the European Bird Census Council, the Czech Society for Ornithology, the French National Museum of Natural History and Statistics Netherlands.

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