Britain has started sliding southwards, at about five miles per year. Within a couple of generations London will be somewhere well to the south of Paris, in distinctly warmer climes.

We are not actually on the move. But the man-made changes in climate now getting under way are equivalent to a gradual change in latitude. Climatologists tell us that the speed of change will accelerate.

It seems quite a pleasant notion at first - longer and hotter summers, fewer frosts.

But in changing the composition of the atmosphere, mainly by burning more and more coal, oil and gas, humanity has embarked on a colossal global experiment with no idea of the outcome. And if climate change does grave harm to our agriculture and economies, it seems certain to do far worse damage to wildlife.

The latest predictions from scientists are for a 2.5 degree centigrade increase in average global temperatures by the end of the next century as heat-trapping carbon dioixide and other gases from industry and agriculture build up in the atmosphere.

Sea levels will rise by around two feet as the warmer oceans expand. Those climate changes may not sound drastic, but they would be the most rapid since the last Ice Age ended about 10,000 years ago.

The temperature increase will be spread unevenly around the planet with the Arctic, for instance, warming up much more than the global average.

Along with the warming will come changes in rainfall and snowfall, wind patterns and ocean currents. Some places will get wetter, others may become deserts.

There are fears that major changes in ocean circulation could be triggered, which would in turn lead to much greater climate shifts on land.

Wildlife has had to cope with more drastic, but entirely natural swings in climate many times in prehistory as ice ages came and went. But these days, with more and more of the planet's surface intensively exploited by man, there is far less room for nature to manoeuvre.

Some species will be squeezed out of their homelands by climate change and have to colonise habitats elsewhere in order to survive. Separating the fragments of natural and semi-natural habitat which remain are huge stretches of farmland and urban development, which may prove quite impassable for many cold-loving plants and animal species as they seek cooler climes to the north.

In Britain the ptarmigan is one of several species confined to the tundra- like, semi-Arctic habitats found on our mountain tops. If these habitats disappear due to global warming then so does this particular bird.

Meanwhile, we can expect some animals and plants from warmer climes to set up home in Britain. There are signs of this happening already. A few insect and bird species from much further south in Europe, such as Cetti's warbler and the little egret, have begun breeding in Britain in recent decades.

What happens to rainfall is just as important as any changes in temperature. Even before the recent English drought years started in the late 1980s our steadily rising demand for water was denying nature its first share. Several wetlands were drying out, and several lowland rivers were running low or completely dry, because water companies and farmers were taking too much water.

The droughts we are now experiencing have made matters much worse for water-loving wildlife, and they may be part of man-made global warming - although it is too early to know for certain.

Reducing water wastage in the home and in leakages from the mains has now become a major campaign priority for the Wildlife Trusts and other conservation groups.

In a hotter, drier Britain, forest and moorland fires are likely to be more frequent and larger. In April this year a bone-dry Dartmoor National Park suffered a devastating blaze at Trendlebear Down.

It wiped out two square miles of heather and grassland, much of which was due to be declared a National Nature Reserve later this year. The fire wiped out the moor's only colony of Dartford warblers, a rare small bird, and a colony of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly.

As sea levels rise, the low-lying freshwater wetlands on the coast and the huge areas of mudflats lining estuaries will be gradually drowned. In Britain these areas are key feeding and breeding grounds for dozens of wildfowl and wading birds, some of them already quite rare.

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust knows all about the devastating effect of sea level rise. In February last year a combination of high tides and north-easterly gales breached sea defences, causing its freshwater Cley Marshes Nature Reserve on the Norfolk coast to be completely flooded by saltwater. The trust is fund-raising to try to right the damage, but if the these marshes became permanently saline then one of the largest remaining areas of habitat for one of the country's rarest and most unusual birds, the booming bittern, would be lost.

England's eastern and southern coastline was already sinking slowly before man-made climate change and the accompanying rise in sea level began. The invading sea poses a particular threat to coastal habitats and wildlife in Britain.

If we could instantly cut our emissions of "greenhouse gases" such as carbon dioxide and methane by two thirds then the man-made climate change would slow down and stop within a couple of decades.

But far from falling, emissions are rising at more than one per cent a year as consumption of fossil fuels keeps on rising along with economic growth and the industrialisation of poorer countries.

Meanwhile developed nations, which have pledged to freeze their rising annual emissions at the 1990 level by the year 2000, as a first step towards tackling the threat, are mostly failing to keep their promise.

So while you may hear plenty of talk about tackling global warming a lot of it, sadly, is hot air. Which is why organisations like Wildlife Trusts campaign hard for governments, industry and the public at large to use energy less wastefully and find alternatives to fossil fuels.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Steven Fletcher scores the second goal for Scotland
cricketBut they have to bounce back to beat Gibraltar in Euro 2016 qualifier
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Ashdown Group: .NET Developer : ASP.NET , C# , MVC , web development

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits - see advert: Ashdown Group: .N...

Guru Careers: 3D Package Designer / 3D Designer

£25 - 30K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an exceptional 3D Package Designer / 3...

Guru Careers: Interior Designer

£Competitive: Guru Careers: We are seeking a strong Middleweight / Senior Inte...

Day In a Page

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
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing