British wildlife moving to the north as temperatures rise

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Eight out of 10 animal species in Britain have expanded their range to the north in response to a warmer climate over the past 40 years, scientists said yesterday.

They include mammals, birds, butterflies, beetles and spiders, said Professor Chris Thomas of York University.

"Eighty per cent of species are moving in the directions that are predicted for them, in other words moving north, moving up mountains, retreating at their southern boundaries," Professor Thomas told the British Association.

"This is an incredible percentage of species given all the other things we are doing to our landscapes over the last 25 to 50 years. It's just amazing how strong the signature of climate change is," he said.

"In some areas we are already seeing new types of vegetation with a mixture of native species. We're going to get new combinations of species that we've just not seen before.

"This makes it a nightmare for conservation. You not only need the national parks and reserves you've got at the moment, we need the places that species are going to have to move to and you need areas in between for them to get there," Professor Thomas said.

As the ranges of most animals are moving further north, their southern boundaries are retreating at an even faster pace, making it likely that some species will eventually run out of a suitable habitat in Britain. Professor Thomas said that between 10 and 50 per cent of land species could be at risk of eventual extinction as a result of climate change.

"Combined with other threats to biodiversity, especially habitat loss, this suggests that we could genuinely be on the brink of a geologically significant extinction event," he added.