Reporter 437, 24 May 1999

Birds of a feather flock north with the weather

Birds are spreading their wings and being driven north by global warming, according to research carried out in the biology department and published in Nature. The coming years could see exotic birds such as the spoonbill - which are already building nests here - breeding in Britain for the first time.

Chris Thomas and Jack Lennon have analysed the distribution of 59 species of British birds, using data on breeding birds published by the British Trust for Ornithology.

A green woodpecker in inverness
Woody: green woodpeckers are now resident in balmy inverness

They found the northern margins of many species had moved nearly 19km over 20 years. For example, the green woodpecker had moved from Aberdeen to Inverness. Dr Lennon said the success of bird reproduction was associated with warmer conditions in the spring.

Dr Thomas said the findings had serious implications. "We can expect to see much larger changes in the next 50 years," he said.

well as moving northwards, birds and animals will also begin to go further up mountains. "Rare species restricted to mountains may be threatened with extinction as they find they have decreased areas of habitat in which to live," Dr Thomas added. The change could also hinder earlier attempts at conservation: "As distributions change nature reserves may be in the wrong place for species they were set up to preserve," he said.

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