Evidence type: Research
Organisations: Natural England, Alterra, Conservatoire du Littoral, Environment Agency, Environmental Change Institute, Hampshire County Council, Kent County Council, Provincie Limburg, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
Biodiversity must adapt to climate change. For many habitats and species, this will be difficult because the landscape across Europe is fragmented and past decisions limit the opportunities for adaptation.
Spatial planners must act now to create a landscape and coastline that can withstand the effects of climate change. BRANCH provides the guidance and evidence to take action.
Planners told BRANCH why they were not taking more account of climate change and biodiversity. Their reasons included:
- Lack of clear leadership and allocated responsibility for biodiversity.
- Lack of capacity to implement change and safeguard future sites for biodiversity.
- Timescales for responding to climate change are longer than most planning timescales.
- Conflicting aims for land in the spatial plans for different sectors, for example, between biodiversity plans and infrastructure plans.
- Insufficient information, for example on the best places to safeguard or enhance for wildlife.
The threat to saltmarsh and mudflats throughout Europe will increase during this century, particularly under high emissions scenarios. The length of coastline in North West Europe that has a high vulnerability to sea-level rise is predicted to increase by 46% under the 2080s high emissions scenario. There is increasing interest in managed realignment across Europe, especially in northern Europe, offering opportunities for intertidal habitat creation.
Many species may not be able to move sufficiently in the face of climate change because habitat networks in North West Europe are too fragmented. In particular, the small and fragmented nature of wetland ecosystems increases the vulnerability of species, such as the bittern, that require large areas of suitable habitat. Even if locations develop suitable climate space, species with a small dispersal capacity and species that are sensitive to urban barriers, such as the pool frog, will be unable to colonize them.
- Maintain intertidal habitats, especially around the Mediterranean, Black and Baltic seas, by creating space for coasts to adapt.
- Reduce fragmentation by, for example, developing more wetlands and woodlands, and enlarging existing ones.
- Identify where new saltmarsh, mudflats and grazing marshes could be created.
- Co-operate across national borders to improve ecological networks in delta areas by combining nature conservation and flood management objectives.
- Develop climate-proof networks at the regional scale for sensitive species by creating conditions for dispersal and reducing the effect of barriers.
- Investigate alternative management techniques appropriate for coastal habitats such as soft engineering techniques to encourage saltmarsh growth.
- Create space to allow designated cliff-top habitats to retreat inland.
- Work with dynamic coastlines and plan space into the future for coasts to adapt to climate change. This may require the reserving of land suitable for habitat re-creation.
1. Produce a vision for Europe's biodiversity which provides wildlife with future space to adapt to climate change. This would set the direction that planners and practitioners need.
2. Reinterpret the EC Habitats Directive so that it can be implemented flexibly to protect wildlife in Natura 2000 sites. In future, the Directive should: Allow, where necessary, protected wildlife in a site to change over time while ensuring these species or habitats are retained elsewhere in the Natura 2000 network, by encouraging co-operation between EU Member States. Establish rolling, variable boundaries for mobile sites, for example, on eroding coasts.
3. Increase connectivity between Natura 2000 sites making it easier for species to move. This should be achieved by implementing Article 10 of the Habitats Directive. BRANCH has shown that increased connectivity will enable wildlife to respond more resiliently to climate change.
4. Promote collaboration between different sectors involved in land use planning. Biodiversity will not be able to adapt to climate change if it is restricted to isolated protected sites. Agriculture, coastal and flood protection and well planned infrastructure developments could benefit biodiversity by promoting (and not impeding) connectivity.
5. Integrate climate change into European Directives such as the Strategic Environmental Assessment, Environmental Impact Assessment and Water Framework Directives. This would provide guidance and encourage plans and projects to incorporate adaptation to the impacts of climate change. It would also give guidance to planners and support for adaptation policies.
INTERREG IIIB funded project