New report finds global warming greatest threat to UK woodland

The report by the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity warns that beech woods in south east England could be dying within 30 years due to drought and water shortages caused by climate change.

A Midsummer Night’s Nightmare, compiled by the Woodland Trust, also says that new pests and diseases that destroy woods could become established in the UK, and that many woodland plants and animals will become scarce, and in some cases extinct, because of climate change, which is described as “the biggest single threat to UK woodland”.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that forests are highly sensitive to climate change and woods in the UK are particularly at risk as they are already very small and are isolated from each other by modern farming practices and the spread of towns and cities, says the NGO.

Climate change is already causing changes in seasonal patterns as records of the timing of natural events show that leaves are appearing earlier and staying on trees for much longer, with oak trees coming into leaf 10 days earlier than they did in the 1980s, says the Trust. Under the worst-case scenario provided in the report, the beech and alder could soon disappear, with invasive knotweed filling available space. Migratory birds may no longer be able to make the journey across the Sahara, as it may become too large to traverse and a vastly reduced population of meadow browns may be the only surviving butterfly species in the UK, it warns.

The report calls for urgent action now to restore, protect and extend woods and highlights the need to manage the land surrounding woods more sympathetically for the benefit of wildlife.

“Climate change is happening now and at a faster rate than at any time since the last ice age and it is already having an impact on our woods and the plants and animals that live there,” Mike Townsend, the Woodland Trust’s Chief Executive, said. “There is a lot we can do to help make our woods more adaptable in the face of climate change. In particular, we need to protect, extend and restore our remaining native and ancient woodland. We need to act now and join forces with landowners, Government, statutory agencies, non-governmental organisations and researchers.”

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