Wildlife Habitats Need to Strengthen Their Good Connections to Cope with a Changing Climate

Article excerpt

The plight of the polar bear as its Arctic habitat is affected by climate change has poignantly grabbed many headlines. But, much closer to home, the Countryside Council for Wales is trying to find ways to help Wales' wildlife cope with the changes that lie ahead. In recent years, wildlife habitats have become smaller and more isolated, which means animals can't move around the countryside as the effects of climate change start to bite. CCW suggests one possible answer is to encourage "natural connections" - a network of connected habitats across Wales - to help link up vulnerable sites.

Roger Thomas, the Countryside Council for Wales' chief executive, said, "CCW, in partnership with other wildlife conservation organisations and planning authorities is looking at how best to help wildlife cope with this.

"These new approaches to nature conservation will not only help wildlife move around to a climate that suits them, but also help reduce the impacts of climate change.

"For example, making natural connections will include recreating wetlands, which are important additional sources of water, reducing the threat of droughts.

"Expanding, restoring and protecting natural habitats will also help retain and in some places capture carbon, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

"By helping wildlife, we can also help ourselves live in a changing climate.

Wales has excellent hotspots for wildlife - on Sites of Special Scientific Interests, Tir Gofal farms and National Nature Reserves - but the focus of conservation needs to look beyond these areas, to expand and link habitats, helping wildlife respond to climate change and survive in the long-term."

Dr James Latham, CCW's woodland ecologist, who is leading CCW's Natural Connections work, said, "Any changes to habitat would be gradual and moderate without changing land use or the character of the landscape. The most important point is to have a mix of good semi-natural habitat, targeting the most promising areas and using land management as the main tool."

Much of the land around the coast and the ffridd, between lowland and upland, already has good connectivity. The uplands, however, are often islands of valuable habitat with little potential for expansion, and the lowlands have been intensively developed and farmed, causing the wildlife habitats to be fragmented.

"We need to maintain the large-scale areas which already provide connectivity for many of our wildlife sites," Dr Latham explained.

"These can be expanded and improved and include a wide range of different habitats, but don't have to be physically linked, in a line. …