Climate change in Gloucestershire

Climate change in Gloucestershire

Climate change poster (c) Harrison Moore on Unsplash

We are in the middle of a climate and nature emergency, and the two are inextricably linked. Climate change is driving nature’s decline, and the loss of wildlife and wild places leaves us ill-equipped to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to change. One cannot be solved without the other.

While we are aware of the global impact of climate change and global warming, what are the effects that we could see here in Gloucestershire if real and meaningful change is not carried out?

Loss of water vole habitat in the Severn Vale

One of our beloved mammals, the water voles, would find it more difficult to live in this county. Increasingly unpredictable severe flooding events may mean that water vole habitats in the Severn Vale will become unviable.

This would be catastrophic for these charming creatures, as evidence has shown that they've undergone long term declines across the UK, with some studies indicating they've disappeared from 94% of their former sites.

Water voles dig extensive and complex burrow systems into the banks of waterways, consisting of sleeping chambers at various levels and underwater entrances to give them safe routes for escape.

Water vole

Water vole © Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Loss of saltmarsh habitats due to rising sea levels

One of the seemingly contradictory changes we’ll see is that saltmarsh habitats along the Severn will be lost to rising sea-level rises while droughts become more common. At a whopping 220 miles long, the River Severn is the longest river in Great Britain, with the Severn estuary making up 40 miles of its length. An impressive bore (a mini tidal wave) pushes its way up the river at various times throughout the year.

The Severn estuary represents about 4% of the total area of saltmarsh in the UK and supports internationally important numbers of aquatic invertebrates and waterfowl. Plants here are called halophytes and have adapted to thrive in the salty intertidal environment found here, but if sea levels rise then these areas will be submerged all the time and lost completely.

Curlew, shelducks, redshank, and other bird species that call this niche habitat home would no longer be able to find the food they’re looking for and the shelter for their young.

Curlew

Curlew (c) Damian Waters

Considerable loss of beech trees by 2050

While overall beech trees are likely to expand their range in the UK, across the south and in Gloucestershire, conditions are likely to become unsuitable due to temperature rises and the soil type found here.

Beech trees are sensitive to both extremes of wet and dry conditions, while are likely to become more severe and unpredictable. The lowland areas with free-draining soils, like those found in the Cotswolds, make beeches particularly sensitive to the prolonged summer droughts which will become more commonplace. Droughts put the trees under stress, reducing their growth which is turn reduces leaf cover, leaving them less able to fight infections and reduces seed production. This will result in a downward spiral for the current beech populations.

Beech trees also have shallow root systems, so droughts followed by wet conditions could lead them to fall.

We have a number of veteran beech trees at Crickley Hill that would be at risk. Veteran beeches range from 125 to over 200 years of age, and while veteran trees aren’t as old or complex as ancient trees, they still provide holes, cavities and crevices which are especially important for wildlife.

Beech Woodland

Beech Woodland

Brown trout under threat

Water temperature is one of the most important factors that impact fish populations, especially cold-water species like brown trout. Both their body temperature and their metabolism are regulated by their environment, the water.

Changes in temperature will also impact breeding. Female trout (called hens) start building their nests, known as redds, in the gravelly riverbed from November to January when the water is cold and carrying lots of oxygen as that’s what the eggs need to hatch.

Predicted changes in rain patterns and more frequent flash flooding will also negatively influence breeding occurrence, success, and can lead to less stable spawning grounds.

As well as directly putting their bodies under pressure and impacting breeding, higher water temperatures can increase the emergence of diseases like proliferative kidney disease (PKD), depleting the already stressed populations.

While genetic variance could partially compensate for the effects of changes temperatures, the rapid changes predicted will leave the fish with no time to adapt.

brown trout resting on riverbed

Brown trout (c) Linda Pitkin/2020VISION

What are we doing to face the issues head on?

From the Cotswold Rivers Living Landscape Programme aiming to reconnect and restore healthy river habitats, to working with farmers to explore the positive impacts of regenerative farming, discover more with the short films below.

What can you do?