Above: Bee-eater: a classic example of a bird now seen regularly to the north of its traditional Mediterranean range. Photo: Elgollimoh, CC BY-SA 3.0


POPULAR ONLINE RESOURCES have helped scientists determine that climate change is responsible for displacing certain native UK animal species. Over the past 10 years, some have abandoned their former ranges, while others have appeared in the UK for the first time.

Searches on Twitter and Google for images posted online of animals in unusual places, led a team at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) to assess 10 out of 55 species identified during the period 2008-2018 by this method of citizen science. Other studies analysed included UK government environment reports and 111 scientific papers. All focused solely on species that had established sustainable populations through natural, rather than human-assisted movement.

The research, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, names the purple heron (Ardea purpurea) and European bee-eater (Merops apiaster) as bird species moving with climate change. The purple heron has been known to visit Britain before, but only nested and bred successfully for the first time in 2010, in Kent.

The bee-eater was traditionally a rare wanderer to the UK from its warmer, native range in the Mediterranean and North Africa. It had nested a handful of times, but twice during the period under review: 2014 and 2017.

Lead author Dr Nathalie Pettorelli said: “Our results suggest that many species are on the move in the UK, and that we can expect a lot of changes in the type of nature we will have around us in the coming years.”

According to ZSL researchers, UK wildlife is one of the most intensively monitored in the world. Yet prior to this study there is little centralised tracking of species arriving for the first time in the country or moving to places outside of their known UK range, due to climate change.

Researchers from ZSL would like members of the public to submit any rare wildlife sightings on Twitter to @SOTM_UK using the hashtag #SOTM_UK (species on the move) to aid further research in this area.   

  • For more information about the project, visit: www.zsl.org

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