Research on the assessment of risks & opportunities for species in England as a result of climate change.

Published online
05 Apr 2021
Published by
Natural England
Content type

Pearce-Higgins, J. W. & Ausden, M. A. & Beale, C. M. & Oliver, T. H. & Crick, H. Q. P.

Publication language
UK & Great Britain & England & Europe


In this report we present an assessment of potential changes in the spatial distributions of over 3,000 plants and animals that occur in England resulting from projected climate change. We also consider some potential adaptation responses for different species. There was significant variation in the assessed vulnerability of different taxa to climate change. Bryophytes appeared to be under the greatest risk, whilst the majority of Hymenoptera were regarded as likely to face an opportunity. This may, in part, reflect their predominantly northern/upland and southern/lowland distributions respectively. In most other taxa, a mixture of species was identified as being at 'risk' or facing opportunity. The greatest proportion of NERC priority species at risk from climate change occurred in upland habitats, where the majority of species were classed at high or moderate risk. An additional assessment for migratory bird species and species listed on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive found that northerly distributed breeding seabirds and upland breeding birds were amongst those at the greatest risk of decline, whilst a number of southerly distributed species appeared likely to increase in abundance. Although many of these species-assessments were associated with low confidence, projected population declines for dotterel and curlew, and population increases for avocet, sanderling, little egret and Dartford warbler were associated with medium or high confidence, and are largely supported by other data and studies. It was clear that assessments should ideally be based upon distributional data from a wide geographical area in order to prevent the over-estimation of change that results from using distribution data from Great Britain only. The novelty of future projected climates for Great Britain means that ideally, species' distribution projections should incorporate data from Europe, otherwise a species might be projected to be unable to persist in an area when the climate was actually suitable. For most taxa, assessments in this study were based using only data from Great Britain. However, the general direction of projections for these species is still informative, but likely to tend towards greater distributional change. This project deals largely with the potential for species ranges to change under climate change. It is however also important to recognise that much can be done to increase resilience to change within existing distributions and these results may help to focus efforts to do this, as well as identify opportunities to facilitate range expansion.

Key words