Wildlife watchers usually enjoy watching new species coming to the UK due to climate change, according to a study published in the journal People and Nature. Most of these species are abandoning areas that are getting too hot and moving to cooler regions such as the British isles.
The global redistribution of species due to climate change is creating new interactions between humans and wildlife, which may have complex consequences. These range-shifting species can increase biodiversity in the new place, but they may also disrupt the local ecosystems.
A team of researchers from the University of Exeter, UK, asked volunteers who regularly contribute to wildlife protection schemes about their views on birds and insect species that are new to the UK after arriving by themselves (this does not include species introduced by humans). Participants were given a list of species with eight birds and eight insects whose range now includes the UK, such as the little bittern and Eurasian spoonbill, and the small red-eyed damselfly and the mottled shieldbug.
Attitudes were primarily positive, with a few caveats. Participants welcomed the new arrivals, especially for birds they already knew. The warm welcome didn’t really extend so much to insects or species they weren’t familiar with. “We found that wildlife recorders viewed range-shifters more as vulnerable ‘ecological refugees’ than as threatening ‘climate opportunists,'” said Dr. Regan Early of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Respondents were strongly opposed to eradicating or controlling new range-shifters, but they also did not want to see conservationists trying to boost their numbers. Public opinion – especially among volunteers engaged in conservation – will play an important role in how we treat species arriving in the UK.”
However, although welcome in general, volunteers felt less optimistic if the new species could harm native animals. “The complex questions of how and when to manage these arrivals are becoming increasingly urgent as more establish. Scientific evidence was a key factor in respondents’ decision-making on management, but many also spoke of the ‘wow’ factor that some of these species had for them,” said lead author Jamie Cranston. “I hope this could be an opportunity to engage more people with the excitement of biodiversity conservation.”
According to the authors, engaging with these wildlife watchers represents an opportunity to gather support for conservation with the aim to benefit both currently native and arriving species, such as improvements to habitat quality and connectivity.
Cranston J, Crowley S, Early R (2022) UK wildlife recorders cautiously welcome range-shifting species but incline against intervention to promote or control their establishment. People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10325