Fallen birds and dried hedgehogs: Heat wave affects UK wildlife | wild animals

Animal rescue centers have received a glut of calls, birds have fallen from the sky and nature reserves have burned while British wildlife has been baked for the past week. A hot wave.

Conservationists said the animals were still scary as they tried to take cover from the heat. Experts fear record temperatures could cause a further collapse in insect numbers, with bumblebees and butterflies among the worst affected.

Dried hedgehogs, baby birds, fox cubs, and grass snakes were among the victims helped by the RSPCA, which warned that the extent of damage caused by heat stress in 40°C (104°F) conditions was wide. “Our emergency call center has a lot more calls than usual. On Monday we received 7,186 calls to our helpline compared to 4,416 on Sunday, which is a significant increase,” said Evie Patton, a science officer with the RSPCA’s Wildlife Division.

There have been reports of fluctuations falling from the sky In London, Oxfordshire Wildlife Rescue near Didcot said it couldn’t take more Animals after the heat wave increased the number of infections brought in. “Often you don’t see the effects of something like this firsthand because it’s the nature of wildlife to hide away when they’re sick or injured,” Patton said. Often only when they are in really bad shape will people see them and call us. So a lot of the effect will be hidden.”

Hilltop in Wild Ken Hill with a long strip of scorched earth
Wild Ken Hill Nature Reserve near Snettisham, Norfolk, where wildfires destroyed 33 hectares last week. Photography: Andrew Edison

Among the most dramatic events was A Forest fires In Norfolk’s Wild Kin Hill Preserve, 33 hectares (82 acres) of prickly scrub have caught fire, with nesting areas of turtle pigeons, grasshoppers, and reed birds razed. Experts said reptiles and amphibians would have been burned, while most birds would have escaped — except for those that nest late in the season. I saw some birds flying back into the flames. “I think the maternal instinct is very strong,” said project manager Dominique Bouscal. “I am worried it will happen again this year. It is incredibly dry, we have no forecast for rain this week and it is only mid-July.”

What is happening in the UK is part of a bigger picture, with Heat waves are becoming more and more common With the escalation of the climate crisis. Across Europe in the past few days, land has burned and fires have broken out in a number of countries including Spain, Greece and France. With heat waves expected to become 12 times more frequent By 2040 compared to pre-warming levels, animals around the world are changing their behavior to acclimatize. For example, research shows grizzly bears in Alberta, Canada, Looking for more closures، active at night. “Heatwave survivors” are those who go through heat but suffer invisible costs such as disease and stunted growth.

A little owl suffering from a heat wave is approaching the middle of the towel
A young owl suffers from heat at the L’Hirondelle (Swallow) Wildlife Care Center in Saint-Forge, France. Photo: Jean-Philippe Csiazyk/AFP/Getty Images

John Spicer, professor of marine zoology at the University of Plymouth, said the tidal zone of Plymouth Harbour, which is usually crowded with hermit crabs foraging and shells at low tide, was calm during a heat wave. Those crabs that stayed seemed sluggish and some were unresponsive.

“The mobile animals that remain in the tidal zone are still frightening,” Spicer said. Note that beach hoppers, which recycle beach materials, were waiting for heat rather than reconstitution of nutrients, and sometimes there was a pocket with a hundred crunchy dead dead.

He added: “If they survive heat stress, they may be damaged or their ‘energy bills’ may be more geared towards sustaining themselves rather than other basic functions like growth and reproduction. So the cost of living increases – and I need not tell you the effects of that rise.”

Just outside of Plymouth, three common seaweed species have shown serious heat damage. “The organisms that seem to be affected the most, which makes sense, are the ones that can’t move, and are held in place — barnacles, mussels, sponges, sea anemones,” Spicer said.

There have been reports of rare purple butterflies Adventure From the tops of oak trees to ponds for moisture. across the UK, There is concern The heat wave will burn the plants that these insects feed on and kill the young larvae, which could cause a significant decline in some species.

A bee on a block of wildflowers in an uncut meadow in Eaton, Windsor
The flowers are left in a small strip of meadow uncut in Eton, Berkshire, as a habitat for wildlife. Photography: Maureen McClain/Rex/Shutterstock

Dave Goulson, a professor of biology at the University of Sussex, said bumblebees would also be severely affected. They are relatively large and have fur coats which are adapted to living in cold conditions. At a temperature of 40 ° C they will not be able to search for food. “It gets so hot in very hot weather that it simply can’t fly — imagine trying to flutter your arms 200 times a second in a fur coat,” Goulson said. They usually have some food reserves in their nest, so they may be able to survive a few days, but can die if there are long periods of heat.

For a number of British bumblebees, it would be too warm to survive in Britain with temperatures rising by two degrees Celsius. Under the best climate scenario, Goulson said, it is expected that seven common bumblebees will not be able to live in most of the lowlands of England. Search From 2020 indicates that the expansion or decline of bee species could be driven by their resistance to heat stress.

In general, animals such as reptiles and insects, which are ectotherms, are severely affected because they are unable to control their own body heat – it simply matches the temperature of the surrounding environment. Those who live in cities that suffer from Heat island effect It will be subject to the greatest rise in temperature. “In natural environments with lots of trees, plants and water bodies, there will be more cold air and shade,” said University of Aberdeen ecologist Dr Natalie Bellacotta. She said placing feeders in gardens, water points and water baths will help wildlife weather the heat wave.

Six birds in a muddy pond of flood waters in Dorney Common, Buckinghamshire
Birds in the last area of ​​floodwaters in Dorney Common, Buckinghamshire, where the common area burned due to a heat wave on July 15. Photography: Maureen McClain/Rex/Shutterstock

said Mike Morecroft, lead author of the IPCC report Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability who also works in Natural England. “Something we really care about is trying to target some of our conservation efforts at what we call climate change shelters, that is, places that are naturally cool, like north-facing slopes or higher elevations,” he said. “Places near the coast also tend to be a little cooler – for this reason, the sea tends to smooth out fluctuations in air temperature.”

Incorporating more water into the landscape means that it is more resilient in hot, dry summers and also stores water in the event of major floods. This will help prevent wildfires and reduce the effects of drought that often come with such hot weather. Since drought, heat, and wildfires all struck at the same time, it is difficult to separate the effects of each. “It is only in the coming months and years that the effects of this week can be properly assessed,” Morecroft said.

However, urgently cut off greenhouse gases is the highest priority. The mitigation and coping strategies make good sense and give us some relief because we’re doing something, Spicer said, but they won’t avoid the next car crash.

“The speed at which we hit the wall is determined by our production of greenhouse gases. The question is not whether we can avoid collapsing but how fast you want to travel when we hit the wall.” “Reducing greenhouse gases dramatically – that’s what we can actually do about it, even if it hurts.”

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