The Top 10 Natural Hotspots

Landscapes and wildlife are slowly changing in some of the world's most exquisite places - Mark Rowe selects destinations for remarkable sightings


1. March of the penguins

During the past 50 years, the west coast of the Antarctic peninsula has been one of the most rapidly warming parts of the planet, with annual mean temperatures rising by nearly 3C. This trend is affecting a number of species, including the Adélie penguin, which, along with the emperor penguin, is the only penguin to breed in Antarctica. Warmer weather has led to a decrease in the frequency of very cold winters when heavy sea ice occurs, leading to a decline in the numbers of Adélie penguins. The birds can still be seen across the peninsula and the neighbouring South Shetlands.

Why go? The Adélie is the picturebook penguin, dressed in a tail suit and waddling busily as if late for an embassy dinner.

Contact: Peregrine Adventures (01635 872300; peregrine adventures.co.uk) offers a 10-day Antarctic Explorer trip to the peninsula from £2,677 per person, excluding international flights.

2. Head in the cloud forest

Costa Rica's wildlife is among the most vulnerable to climate change. Its golden toad holds the dubious distinction of being what is believed to be the first species to become extinct directly as a result of global warming. Many species have evolved in narrow niches in the country's varied environment; as the planet heats up, resulting in higher rainfall patterns and temperature extremes, the species must continually move to higher elevation in search of cooler climes - until they have nowhere left to go. Now one of the world's most charismatic birds, the toucan,

particularly the keel-billed toucan, is feeling the heat.

Why go? The toucan is one of the most identifiable figures in the animal kingdom.

Contact: Journey Latin America (020-8622 8482; journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers an 11-night Toucanet, highlights of Costa Rica itinerary, which includes a visit to Monteverde Cloud Forest, from £1,713 per person including international flights.

3. Follow the herd of elephants

Surprisingly little noise has been made about one of the most dramatic potential casualties of climate change - the African elephant. Normally in Africa animals move around to find well-vegetated areas to continue feeding but areas of Africa which are currently dry will become even drier as well as warmer over the coming years. This means that the areas favoured by animals such as elephants may quickly become denuded of nutrition. In pre-industrial times, animals threatened by these changes simply could have migrated, but human development means that option has largely disappeared. Dr Richard Leakey, the former director of Kenya's wildlife service, says animals such as elephants are now "pretty well tied in by boundaries".

Why go? Although it is unlikely that man would allow such a symbol of the natural world to become extinct, the animal is less robust than its stature would suggest and its range may be significantly reduced.

Contact: Audley (01869 276250; audleytravel .com) has a 10-day trip to Botswana that allows visitors close-up views of elephants. From £2,200 per person, including international flights.

4. Go north for the Arctic whale

Climate change poses a major threat to cetaceans, principally through the damage it may wreak on their habitat and changes to their prey. Whales that are dependent on ice edges for foraging may be affected by the loss of sea ice, and the resumption of commercial whaling in Iceland last week has alarmed conservationists. The bowhead whale, whose foraging habitats are intricately linked to the Arctic ecosystem (unlike many other species, it does not migrate), is thought to be particularly at risk. Threats to its existence are not new: by the start of the 20th century, the bowhead had been hunted to the point of extinction by whalers.

Why go? Bowhead whales are giant creatures, weighing 100 tons and up to 18m long. and are one of only three true "Arctic" whales.

Contact: Out of the Blue, the travel wing of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (01249 449533; wdcs.org), will run a 10-day Arctic trip next year to Pond Inlet in Nunavut, Canada, for £1,899 per person, excluding flights. The trip includes a possibility of seeing bowhead whales.

5. In the arms of orang-utans

Just about the most engaging primate you could wish to encounter is on the receiving end of one of the major contributors to global warming and climate change - logging of the rainforest. The orang-utan is only found on the island of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia, and is listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Union. Numbers have dropped from 315,000 in 1900 to fewer than 50,000 today and, according to the World Bank, there may be no lowland forest left outside protected areas in Indonesian Borneo by 2010. One of the best places to see the animals is at the Sepilok rehabilitation centre in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, where primates rescued from captivity can be reintroduced to the wild.

Why go? To watch the loving relationship between a female orang-utan and her infant.

Contact: Responsible Travel (08700 052836; responsibletravel.com) can arrange a two-week trip to Borneo, including a visit to the Sepilok orang-utan rehabilitation centre, for £1,499 per person, including international flights.

6. Scotland's snow lovers

Scientists have identified the Cairngorms as vulnerable in a warmer planet. The habitats that exist there are used to Arctic-like conditions, but in the future the weather is expected to be more like that found in southern England. Warmer weather has led to predictions that the capercaillie, a huge, gawky bird, is likely to lose 99 per cent of its suitable habitat by 2050. Other birds that thrive in the same habitat, such as the snow bunting and ptarmigan, are also under threat. These birds are used to cold, snowy conditions, but as the snow disappears, the birds, along with mosses and plants, will soon be affected. The birds will have to migrate further north, away from the UK, or die out.

Why go? The Cairngorms is Britain's largest national park, and has the largest area of arctic mountain landscape in the United Kingdom.

Contact: For more information, visit cairngorms.co.uk.

7. Quintessential English woods

One of the most popular activities in the UK, a walk in the woods, could take on a dramatically different appearance well before the end of the 21st century. The major challenge is faced by the native British beech, which is dominant in many South-eastern woodlands. The problem is that the beech is shallow rooted, which means that as the soil becomes drier in hotter summers, it can struggle to get the moisture it needs. Ecologists say that, if temperatures forecasts are correct, the beech will no longer be competitive or viable in southern England.

Why go? The beech's glorious green foliage is the quintessential sight of a springtime wood, but at all times of year beech woods teem with wildlife. Wildlife trusts in the south-east of England, including the Chilterns and Oxfordshire, often organise walks through mature woodlands that feature beech trees.

Contact: Details of your local wildlife trust can be obtained from the Wildlife Trusts

(0870-036 7711; wildlifetrusts.org).

8. Climb Africa's highest peak

Kilimanjaro has found itself at the centre of a debate about climate change. For some, the prediction that the snows on its summit (at 5,985m, it is the highest mountain in Africa) and slopes are likely to disappear by 2020 is as bald a statement as can be made about the impact of global warming. The mountains free-standing nature rising out of the plains only further emphasises this bleak fact. The ice fields on Kilimanjaro have lost 80 per cent of their area during this century, and tropical glaciers in Africa have shrunk by 60 to 70 per cent on average since the early 1900s.

Why go? The summit affords stunning views

of the savannah.

Contact: Exodus (0870-240 5550; exodus.co.uk ) offers a six-day trek up Mount Kilimanjaro from £535 per person, excluding international flights.

All prices are based on two sharing, unless stated

9. The best Wild flowers: South Africa in bloom

The spectacular flowering of the fynbos is a highlight of a visit to the Cape Floral Kingdom in South Africa. But the event could be dramatically reduced by climate change. Average temperatures have significantly warmed over the past 30 years and, as a result, the fynbos may become confined to a small area in the Southern Cape Mountains. Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) offers a 14-day tripfrom £2,996 per person, including flights.

10. The best Mountain climb: On the roof of the world

If climate change takes hold, there will be no escape from the heat, not even on Mount Everest. A glacier that once came close to Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's first camp has retreated by three miles. Now Hillary has backed a campaign for Everest to be placed on Unesco's list of World Heritage Sites in danger. Himalayan Kingdoms (01453 844400; himalayankingdoms.com) offers a 20-day trip to Everest base camp from £1,595, including flights.

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