On the most romantic day of the year, contemplating the state of the planet and the impending effects of climate change probably won’t be at the top of your to-do list.  I’m sure you all know how to show love and appreciation to your loved ones, but what about the places that we ourselves and nature depend on?

2019 marks the fifth year of the Climate Coalition Show the Love Campaign, a campaign which aims to raise awareness about climate change and how it affects local areas while empowering individuals to talk to politicians to protect what we love. The Climate Coalition is comprised of 130 organisations including the RSPB, OXFAM and the National Trust and has the support of over 15 million individuals.

So for this blog, I’m focusing on the effects of climate change in one area in particular: RSPB Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve. For Leighton Moss, our climate change story is already underway and while the signs may not be so obvious if you look a little deeper, there is evidence which highlights how climate change is affecting us in the present.

With rising sea levels and a predicted increase in the frequency of tidal surges we can expect to see saltmarsh and reedbed habitats inundated with sea water more frequently. This poses a major problem for wading birds which breed in the habitat such as our avocets as their nests can be washed away in these surges.

Avocet with chick. Photo credit: Chris Gomersall

Avocets are one of the best success stories of the RSPB. These beautiful birds were extinct in the UK for over 100 years but there are now an estimated 1500 breeding pairs in the UK. We manage the brackish lagoons where they breed by building fencing to deter predators and prevent human disturbance. Bankings have also been built to help control the water levels and act as a flood defence against tidal surges. In 2018 we had 29 breeding pairs of avocets and as I write this, we are eagerly awaiting their return.

As a country we are also experiencing, with increasing frequency, extreme weather events. In particular droughts and floods, which can disrupt our reedbed inhabitants. Managing a wetland to provide optimum water levels can prove challenging particularly when our much-adored residents have different needs!

Bearded tits need dry, old reedbed to thrive and will struggle in wet, flooded conditions. To help this charismatic little bird our former warden and now volunteer David (who initially pioneered our famous nestbox ‘wigwams’) makes roughly forty of the artificial nest sites to be placed around the reedbed. The wigwams can be raised during heavy floods to prevent nests from being flooded. I should also mention that having made a reed wigwam under David's supervision, it's very, very hard work!

David and his reed 'wigwams'. Photo by David Mower.

Conversely, otters rely on deep fresh water pools to fish. Leighton Moss has been managed to provide a mosaic water habitat meaning we have areas of deep water (such as Causeway Pool) and areas of shallower pools (Grisedale). This allows ample fish movement in the reedbed and offers suitable habitat for bitterns as well as our diving and dabbling ducks.

With the threat of rising sea levels and the inundation of saltwater to the reedbed habitat, managing our water levels via sluices means we can lessen the impact of saltwater inundation, keeping our pools fresh water habitats where fish, otters, bitterns and waterfowl can thrive.

Birds are also changing their migration patterns or in some cases, choosing not to migrate at all! An obvious example are our six over-wintering marsh harriers who would normally spend the winter months sunning themselves in Africa. We can expect management practices to shift in the coming decades in response to birds which may start wintering or breeding here such as the little and great white egrets.

Let’s not forget our insects! A lesser-known area managed by the RSPB Leighton Moss team in partnership with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust and Arnside & Silverdale AONB is Warton Crag, a limestone grassland and cliff environment. Warton Crag is home to some extremely rare/on the brink of extinction butterflies. One example is the nationally important high brown fritillary butterfly, pictured below.

High brown fritillary. Photo credit: David Mower.

With the warmer climate, butterflies are flying earlier and this can lead to them being vulnerable in volatile weather. To help this butterfly species (and others as a result) the warden team carry out coppicing to create areas of open space for wildflowers to grow such as Common Dog-violet, a favoured food plant. 

The potential of wetlands in flood prevention

Wetlands such as Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay provide us with lots of benefits, they encourage biodiversity, improve water quality, protect against coastal erosion and they are now being recognised as playing a pivotal role in flood prevention. Wetlands act like sponges; they can absorb huge amounts of water before slowly releasing it. This helps to control floods and prevent water logging in fields.

 We have lost 90% of our wetlands since Roman times but action is being taken to restore these incredibly important, diverse habitats. The RSPB plays a major part in habitat restoration and we have created areas of new wetland here at Leighton Moss; Barrow Scout and Silverdale Moss. Further afield we have also created new reed beds - I’d recommend visiting RSPB Dearne Valley - Old Moor and  RSPB St Aidans across the border in Yorkshire! These are much more “urban” reserves (compared to Leighton Moss anyway) where nature and society are intertwined in a much more visible sense.

While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s great for getting people who live in urban environments closer to nature and using the land as a flood prevention method. Did you know one of the biggest threats to nature is people, especially children, being disconnected from nature (State of Nature Report, 2016)?

I think these reserves are pretty cool places too, we don’t have to separate people from the natural environment. There are so many benefits to be found in green spaces physically and mentally. So for this month show your love for your favourite natural spaces, start conversations and question the choices of decision makers.

Naomi. VE intern.

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