Climate change – the effects
'Wales' highest mountain may soon have to find
a new name' ...
... could be a newspaper headline of the future, since it's
predicted that, by 2020, Snowdon may have lost its winter snow
cover if the recently recorded decreases in snowfall continue.
Wherever you look in Wales there is evidence of climate change.
While CCW supports all efforts to cut back on greenhouse gas
emissions, it must also prepare to handle the effects.
In the UK the average annual temperature rose by
0.5°C during the 20th Century. In 2002 the UK
Climate Impacts Programme showed that by 2080, according to one
scenario, the temperature will rise by 2-3.5°C,
although some believe this could be as much as
5°C. This will mean hotter and drier summers and
autumns, wetter and milder winters with heavier rainfall. As
a result of these changes the length of the growing season will
increase. And the seas will get warmer with levels rising by
between 11 to 71cm.
These changes in climate are likely to lead to fundamental
changes in our landscape, habitats and wildlife, and also in our
tourism and recreation businesses and activities.
Climate change - the effect on habitats and species
Some species are already being affected by climate change –
plants are flowering earlier and migrant birds are arriving sooner
and leaving later. Springtime events such as frog spawning
and flowering times can be up to a month earlier than 30 years
ago.Many habitats are vulnerable to climate change – from upland
areas to rivers, lakes, wetland areas and the coast. As
habitats change, so the species that live in them must adapt or
Many upland habitats are particularly vulnerable to climate
change. Upland peat bogs, for example, might dry out and
break down as a result of warmer, drier summers and more frequent
droughts. Not only would this lead to wholesale changes in
upland vegetation, it would also release the carbon
dioxide that was previously locked up in the peat into the
Rivers and lakes will get warmer, leading to faster growth and
metabolism in many species.
Higher river and lake temperatures will be bad news for Wales’s
cold-water fish such as salmon and trout, however.
Add droughts to the mix and water quality is likely to
deteriorate and oxygen levels decrease. Less rain will mean less
water flow in summer creating many problems. More rain in winter
may lead to more storms.
Wetland habitats such as raised bogs will also be at risk in a
drier climate as they rely on water saturation throughout the year.
Winter will then bring other problems, such as acidification, due
to higher rainfall and storms.
Coastal habitats are threatened by rising sea-levels especially
if there are more storms as well.
North v South
On land, competition is likely to increase as species begin to
spread further from their normal range in the southern parts of the
country. Some species, now at home in the colder, northern areas,
could disappear completely.
In our seas, we have already seen this movement to the north in
the distribution of a number of warm water species. It seems likely
that others will follow, as there are fewer obstacles to migration
in the marine environment.
Climate change – effects on land use and the landscape
Wales’ landscape is the result of climate change in the past and
of the influence of agriculture over the centuries. What will the
view from your window be like in the future?
Climate change could result in a longer growing and grazing
season. The range of crops could change, leading to the ploughing
of our familiar green, patchwork of pastures.
A look at southern England today, with its acres upon acres of
fields turned over to crops, could give you a glimpse of the new
Welsh landscape a few decades from now. Climate predictions also
suggest that new areas will become suitable for woodland,
either by colonisation or by planting.
And so the challenge is on to develop agricultural systems that
can absorb the effects of climate change. Common Agriculture Policy
(CAP) reform, agri-environment schemes like Tir Gofal and
management practices all need to help shape these systems.
Water pressure and green energy
Drier summers will increase demands for reservoir capacity
and wetter winters will increase the need for better flood
The landscape will change also as pressure grows to set up green
energy schemes such as wind farms, hydroelectric schemes and
biofuel plantations to lessen the effects of climate change.
Planning systems need to recognise all these pressures in order to
manage the landscape effectively.
Wetter winters and drier summers could also affect our valuable
archaeological heritage. Waterlogging in certain areas today helps
preserve some artefacts – a drier climate could threaten these
conditions. Ploughing fields or planting forests could also
threaten important sites.