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."

News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links