Climate change at St Nicks
A summer 2019 update to this page can be found on our blog.
Over the years our volunteers have helped us record information about wildlife and the weather at St Nicks, and together we have spotted patterns that tend to support national research on climate change. The list below will only continue to grow – unless we all act. It may not seem long but insect populations affect the food we eat while disastrous flooding impacts on local communities and livelihoods.
Shifting wildlife species:
- Speckled wood, comma, peacock and ringlet butterflies have all expanded their distributions northward in recent years and all of these species are now common at St Nicks. According to this report from Butterfly Conservation, there is convincing evidence this is due to climate change. The comma’s expansion is perhaps the most dramatic: traditionally viewed as a southern species, it has expanded its range by 121% between 1977-2007 according to this paper, which also found that although many butterfly species are pushing further north, on the whole the range of most species is shrinking due to habitat loss and fragmentation.
- Pied shieldbug – not uncommon at St Nicks and we may be the first place where it was recorded in York, which would put us on the current (recorded) northern frontier of this species.
- Banded demoiselle damselfly – another intrepid north pioneer which has been recorded at St Nicks. According to this paper, individuals from the edges of their normal range tend to have narrower wings than individuals from the core of the range. Such wings are better adapted for faster flight and a similar pattern has been observed for many other northward increasing
Banded Demoiselle at St Nicks (photo by Cliff Wilton)
insects, including the speckled wood. No such pattern has been found in insects that are not currently increasing their range – apparently there is a greater advantage to being able to fly fast, and therefore disperse into new habitat, where there is more “virgin territory” to exploit. At the core, where all surrounding territory is already occupied, there isn’t much point in dispersing somewhere new anyway. So we may be seeing evolution in action here.
- Damselfly: Beautiful Demoiselle (single sighting of southern and western species well out of its normal habitat type as well as range)
- Hoverfly: Volucella zonaria
All of the listed examples are insects but it is very likely that other species will expand and move north. Insects tend to respond faster than birds or mammals to temperature changes because they are cold blooded and often need a certain temperature threshold for activity. We are already seeing some changes in migrating birds – our Wildwatch has reported seeing chiffchafs in winter – and expect to see other species following suit.
Many thanks go to Wildwatch volunteer Yusef Samari who has done this research for us!
Dec 2015 – meadow behind the Centre flooded
Extreme weather events and changes to seasons:
- While it is hard to show climate change as the cause for many events, we have seen real changes afoot. Flooding and high winds seem to be happening more often (such as the December 2015 floods which affected our water vole populations).
- St Nicks Wildwatch increasingly more often reports sightings of our usual wildlife outside of their normal seasonal occurances and daytime temperatures increasingly seem to vary from what would be normally deemed seasonal. This is in line with MetOffice’s data showing hottest/wettest/coldest years on UK record such as this one. Eight of the UK’s top ten warmest years have happened since 2002.
As members of the Climate Coalition we believe that there is still time to act and climate change actions have numerous side benefits:
And should climate change turn out to be not as serious as predicted, we will still have a created a better world by acting on it (as this cheeky cartoon illustrates) – will you join in?