Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 00:21 UK

New 'lookouts' for climate change

Cairngorms (Pic: Dr David Long, Bryology Section Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh)
The Cairngorms will be one of the sites the project team will monitor

Corries high in the Scottish mountains are to become "lookout posts" in an effort to better monitor the effects of climate change.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is leading the Snowbed Project which will attempt to uncover evidence of warming temperatures on fauna and flora.

Corries are large circular, hollow depressions on a mountainside.

Climate change models predict a decrease in the amount of snow on the mountains into the summer.

SNH said observations had shown these snow patches had been smaller and shorter lived in the past 10 years than in the preceding 25.

Survey sites will be established in the Cairngorms and on Aonach Mor, Ben Dearg, Ben Alder and Ben Wyvis.

Backed by the Scottish Government, the project will investigate the effects of less snow and warmer conditions on plants such as moss and liverwort, and impacts further up the food chain on birds such as snow bunting.

The University of Bergen in Norway and Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh are also involved.

SNH said the project would build on the work done by scientist and mountaineer Gordon Rothero.

Mountain flora (Pic: Dr David Long, Bryology Section Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh)
Mosses and liverworts are collectively called bryophytes. Small, simple plants - there are fewer than 1,000 species in Scotland
Scotland's mountains provide habitat for rare wildlife including mountain hare and ptarmigan
Ptarmigan, a member of the grouse family, turn totally white in winter expect for its eye-patch and tail
He said climate change had already influenced plant growth since he began his studies almost 20 years ago.

Mr Rothero said: "Comparison of the photographs I took of various snowbed sites in 1989 with those taken during this project last summer show clear changes in the pattern of vegetation.

"Analysis of the 2007 data from the plant communities on the sites shows some changes in species composition, but these changes are not easy to interpret."

SNH estimated Scotland had 2,470 acres of snowbed habitat.

This area supports rare species, many living on the most southern fringes of their range.

Dr David Genney, of SNH, said: "Indeed these areas of Scotland could be said to have more in common with the mountains of Scandinavia, the high arctic of Spitzbergen and parts of Greenland than they do with the Carse of Stirling for example."

Larger flowering plants, able to grow at higher altitudes because of warmer conditions, have been found taking over sites of mosses and liverworts.

Dr Genney added: "Any loss of this habitat will pose a direct threat to birds such as ptarmigan, snow bunting and dotterel which feed on the insects that live in the moss and so the impact will spread through links in the food chain."

Environment Minister Michael Russell said the initiative was a "milestone" in understanding the influences of changing climate on high places.


SEE ALSO
Research finds rise in hare kills
22 Apr 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Snapshot of global climate change
21 Jun 07 |  Scotland
Park's carbon footprint examined
17 Apr 07 |  Highlands and Islands

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