Early birds: Twitchers look out for 'rarity' spot
In its Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, the RSPB expects more species to be spotted – thanks to climate change. Paul Bignell and Richard Osley report
Sunday 25 January 2009
To many of the twitchers poised by the reed beds at the London Wetland Centre yesterday, this weekend's Big Garden Birdwatch was a matter of sublime indifference. While most people are being urged to spend an hour totting up anything with a beak in the back garden, the hardcore "professionals" out in force had only bitterns in mind.
The bittern, a wader so secretive it is described by twitchers as a "rarity" spot – there are said to be only about 100 in the country – had been seen earlier at the centre in Barnes, south- west London.
The hundreds of thousands of ordinary people expected to participate in Birdwatch this weekend are being urged to be a little less exclusive in their bird-spotting. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) stressed that casual watchers "certainly don't need to be serious twitchers to take part. All you need to do is record all the birds you see in your back garden or a public place for one hour." The event, billed as the world's biggest wildlife survey, helps the charity get a clear picture of bird numbers in Britain.
The RSPB's experts believe the variety of species to be seen this year could be greater than ever as a result of climate change. Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "Milder winter temperatures in the UK mean birds aren't bothering to fly south. In the past five years, birds such as blackcaps have been seen more often. It would have been virtually unheard of to see these in UK gardens 30 years ago when the Birdwatch first started."
Climate change has brought about a similar revolution in other aspects of British wildlife, according to the Woodland Trust, the environmental charity. The trust's Nature Calendar – a nationwide survey by thousands of volunteers who record things as varied as the first song of the song thrush, or sightings of the first butterfly or frogspawn – have warned that the latest evidence shows that climate change continues to transform springtime.
According to the trust's extensive records, some of which date back to the 1700s, plants such as the snowdrop are emerging 15 days earlier than the average for the past 30 years, while frogs lay spawn two weeks earlier.
The Woodland Trust said the changes are a cause for concern. Species fooled by mild winters into blossoming or breeding are vulnerable and can get caught out by a cold spell. Richard Smithers, its UK conservation adviser, said: "Species are doing their thing earlier and earlier; the danger is some may have got 'locked-in' to their seasonal advance. More likely, though, if we get a sudden warm spell, lots of things could start to happen, then it could switch to being cold and you'll end up with species having real problems.
"Frogspawning is one of the most responsive events... to climate. In recent years, we've had frogs spawning as early as October – which is quite ridiculous. It's almost as if spring is happening before autumn has ended." And frozen frogspawn, he added, could have "an impact on breeding success".
Another potential problem outlined by the trust was that species could get out of sync with one another. "A good example would be the orange-tip butterfly and garlic mustard – which is its [larva's] food plant," Mr Smithers said. "If the butterfly responds faster [to climate] than garlic mustard, the butterfly could emerge in the spring to lay its eggs and there would be no garlic mustard around. What does it do then?"
Apple has been hit by complaints about the 1.1GB download
Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason
Liam Neeson's Downton dreams
Matt Smith is set to join cast of the Jane Austen classic - with a twist
Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama
Very hungry Asian caterpillar threatens Britain’s box hedges
Campaigners lobby Duchess of Cornwall to persuade her son-in-law to cease Knebworth solar farm
Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind
Climate change means rate of growth of trees has gone up by 77%
Conquering Everest: 60 facts about the world's tallest mountain
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Revealed after 75 years of secrecy: 'Fifi' the glamorous WW2 special agent who tested British spies' resolve
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
£45000 - £55000 Per Annum 31 days holiday, pension, healthcare, annual bonus: ...
£100 - £222 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recruiting f...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: SEN TA's apply now! West Midlands
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...