How can we adapt conservation to climate change?

The report of the joint Natural England – BES meeting on ‘Adapting Conservation to a Changing Climate‘ has been published. This meeting took place over two days in January 2011 and saw over 120 policy-makers, ecologists and conservation practitioners attend Charles Darwin House for lively discussion and networking.

Climate change is widely regarded as the major long-term threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services and it is essential that conservation adapts to deal with this threat. General principles have been identified and adaptation is starting to happen, but we need to step up the pace.

Effective adaptation requires a strong partnership between researchers, practitioners and policy makers. It is essential that adaptation measures are developed on the basis of sound science, combined with a rigorous assessment of their feasibility and acceptability to society.

The key messages to emerge from presentation and discussion at the conference are:

1) Climate change adaptation needs to start happening to a far greater extent than currently. It was not difficult to find research into possible adaptation strategies, assessments of vulnerability and plans for implementing adaptation. There are many fewer examples of adaptation that is actually happening.

2) Pilot studies need to be established to help address the uncertainties around determining the most effective adaptation measures, for example on the relative importance of increasing connectivity of habitat networks, compared to improving or enlarging existing sites. Good monitoring and assessment of the outcomes are essential.

3) The issues posed by climate change are different depending on the extent to which climate actually changes. To put it crudely, there is a big distinction between dealing with 2°C and 4 °C of warming. At the lower end of the scale, there is plenty of scope to increase the resilience of the landscapes and ecosystems that we currently have. At the higher end, this will not be sufficient and we need to consider much more
radical approaches and be prepared to accept species in very different places and place that look very different.

4) Climate change adaptation needs to be developed as part of a wider transformation in the approach of human societies to the natural environment, in which we understand it better and value it more.

Full details of this meeting, together with copies of speakers’ presentations, are available from the BES website.