Climate change blamed for fall of mountain bird

A A A

Global warming is claiming its first real victim in Britain's wildlife - the blackbird of the mountains.

Research is linking a sharp decline in the population of the ring ouzel, a close blackbird-relative which lives on cool mountain tops and high moors, to rising atmospheric temperatures.

Numbers of the attractive bird - its black plumage is broken by a striking white crescent around its breast - have dropped by almost 60 per cent in the past decade, in Scotland and in the English and Welsh moorlands.

Scientists fear higher temperatures in late summer, prompted by climate change, are causing the birds in northern England, the Peak District, north Wales and the Brecon Beacons to disappear completely.

They have already gone from the Long Mynd, a ridge of high ground in south Shropshire, where there were 12 pairs in 1999. In Dartmoor and Exmoor they used to be plentiful, but now there are only a handful left.

"We think that ring ouzels in England and Wales are being hardest hit by the warmer temperatures," said Colin Beale of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute in Aberdeen, who led the research, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

"They just seem to be dying out rather than adapting and moving elsewhere. But that isn't to say there isn't hope for them. We think that it is changes in the availability of food, rather than higher temperatures themselves, that is the problem, and we may be able to do something to help."

Ring ouzels are elusive birds best known to hikers, mountaineers and hill walkers. They spend the winter in Spain and Africa and migrate back to Britain every spring.

Although the effect of climate change on British wildlife has already been observed in various ways, such as flowering times, the ring ouzel is the first case where a whole population of a species has been seen to be at risk.

"It's the only species so far where a natural decline of any magnitude has been demonstrated, and where in our view climate change is the underlying cause," Dr Beale said.

Scientists from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are starting this week to radio-track ring ouzels in the Scottish Highlands, to follow their movements and learn more about their habits and needs. They fear that dry ground caused by warmer weather means earthworms are more difficult to find, and may also affect berry crops, staple foods on which the birds rely. This could be leaving the birds in poor condition for their autumn migration to Spain's Sierra Nevada and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, and in turn meaning that fewer survive to return.

Dr Beale said: "If we change the management of moors so that heather grows larger, there may then be more moisture left in the soil. That means earthworms will be nearer the surface and therefore more food available."

Jerry Wilson, an RSPB scientist, said: "The ring ouzel is one of the UK's least studied birds, which is why this new research is so vital. We are hoping tagging will tell us what they feed on and which habitats they use. The findings could be crucial in improving management of upland areas for ring ouzels and protecting them from climate change."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Account Manager

£27000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing cloud based I...

Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager - Software & Services

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Product Marketing Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Exhibition Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An expanding B2B exhibition and...

Recruitment Genius: QA Technician

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading manufacturer of re...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat