Climate change 'will destroy populations of British shorebirds'

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The Independent Online

Populations of some of Britain's most attractive shorebirds will be decimated by climate change in their Arctic breeding grounds, according to a study released today.

Birds such as the dunlin, the little stint and the curlew sandpiper - regular sights along the coastline - may lose large portions of their global populations as the open tundra in the far north where they nest becomes covered with trees and scrub, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) study says. Forests are expected to move north rapidly in the warming conditions predicted throughout the new century.

While models predict a rise in average world temperatures of up to 2.4C in the next 70 to 100 years, the regions towards the North and South poles will experience much greater rises - possibly up to 5C. And Arctic tundra is expected to decrease by between 40 and 57 per cent by the end of this period.

The Arctic is of great importance to many water birds, holding breeding populations of more than two-thirds of all wild geese (an estimated 8.4 to 10 million birds) and almost 95 per cent of all calidrid waders, the sandpiper family that includes the dunlin and the little stint, and other well-knownBritish waders such as the knot and the sanderling.

The study, funded by WWF and conducted by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, based in Cambridge, suggests the predicted loss of tundra would deprive four to five million geese and about 7.5 million waders of a habitat. At particular risk are birds that are already threatened, such as the red-breasted goose.

Even with waders with populations running into seven figures, massive declines can be expected, the study says. The little stint may see its Arctic breeding population drop from 1,411,000 to 770,000 birds by the end of the century. Ute Collier, head of the WWF climate change programme, said: "Global warming has already begun to threaten [these birds], yet many governments cannot bring themselves to take even the first step to stop it."