Re-evaluating the sensitivity of habitats to climate change.

Published online
22 Jun 2023
Published by
Natural England
Content type

Staddon, P. & Thompson, P. & Short, C.

Publication language
England & UK


This report presents the results of an expert led assessment that refines the understanding of the sensitivity of habitats to climate change. Using the Delphi technique and a panel of academic and practitioner experts, an externally validated 5-point scale of sensitivity was developed for habitats in good and degraded condition. This project was funded by Natural England and delivered in partnership with the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI). The research aimed to come to an expert-led consensus of the sensitivity of UK habitats to climate change. The 22 experts were selected based on their knowledge of specific habitat types and/or climate change. The panel consisted of experts from practitioner and academic organizations, both governmental and NGOs. The experts were asked to score habitats in good condition and the same set of habitats in a degraded condition to allow for comparison. The project focused on terrestrial, freshwater and coastal (excluding marine) JNCC UK BAP Priority Habitats (Joint Nature Conservation Committee UK Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Habitat Descriptions) and EUNIS (European Nature Information System Habitat Descriptions) habitats. It was shown that almost all habitats were ranked medium to highly sensitive, apart from arable field margins which were low (1) in both good and degraded condition. Habitats ranked at high (4 and 5) sensitivity in both good and degraded conditions and the most sensitive were most river habitats and standing water bodies (lakes and ponds); lowland beech and yew woodlands, wet woodlands and native pine woodlands; wet lowland meadows; coastal grazing marshes; wet and dry lowland heaths; fens, marshes and swamps, mountain heaths and willow scrubs and coastal (machair, saltmarshes, mudflats and saline lagoons). Several habitats had a large difference in sensitivity scores between degraded and good condition, including bog habitats (3 in good condition, 5 when degraded), some woodlands (2-3 in good condition, 4 when degraded), inland rock and scree habitats (1 in good condition, 3 when degraded) and coastal sand dunes (3 in good condition, 5 when degraded). Climate related pressures identified by experts that increase habitat sensitivity include rising sea levels, lack of space, temperature stress, drought, eutrophication, increased storms and invasive species. These results indicate that UK habitats are very sensitive and changes to these habitats will occur under climate projections.

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