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

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?