Monday, 14 July 2014

Wildlife, food and climate change

Lesser Marsh Grasshopper
The Met Office reports that June was 1.2ºC warmer than the average for the 1981-2010 period and the ninth warmest for the past century.  Rainfall was 76% the average.  This reflects the long term trend for changes in our climate and is associated with changes in the distribution of some wildlife species which have been expanding their range north-westwards across the country. We have noticed the changes in central England at Loddington.  Since the Allerton Project started here in 1992, Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers colonised the farm in 1997 and Roesel's Bush Crickets in 2002.  Long-winged Conehead, Tree Bumblebee and White-legged Damselfly are amongst other insects to have appeared from the south-east.  At a time when much wildlife is in decline, the appearance of these species is welcome on the one hand, but on the other, their north-westwards range expansion carries a more sinister message.
Flowering wheat

While it is easy to dismiss the significance of changes in insect communities, we can expect climate change to have more direct effects on our own lives.  That does not just mean more frequent storms and floods, but also threats to our food supply.  Combined with the widespread adoption of heavy machinery, winter rain contributes to water-logged land which causes erosion of soil from fields, and lower yielding crops.  In summer, high temperature during flowering reduces the number of grains per ear of wheat, while poor access to water during grain filling, caused by compacted ground and low rainfall, reduces the size of those grains. Food production in north-west Europe is expected to be affected less than in other parts of the World, putting increasing pressure on the UK and neighbouring countries to feed the global population.  That has serious implications for wildlife associated with farmland, and for us.  As well as continuing to monitor wildlife, we are seeking better ways of managing our crops so as to meet the challenges that climate change presents us all.

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