Tag Archives: Drought

Wildlife Update : British creatures tough out the weird weather

A National Trust property sign at Gordale

Image via Wikipedia

From The Telegraph Earth

The hot early spring was a boon for insects, providing more food for breeding birds, while the autumn’s warm temperatures and sunshine saw something of a “second spring” with shrubs and plants such as dandelions and white dead nettle flowering again.

But in between the summer months were hit by wet conditions in the north and a cold drought in central and eastern England, causing some species such as late emerging butterflies to suffer.

The purple emperor laid hardly any eggs, while drought conditions hit species on a localised basis including frogs and toads which require shallow water for breeding and some birds such as waders which saw their food supplies affected.

Matthew Oates, wildlife adviser at the National Trust, said the year’s weather had been “fantastically quirky”, confusing native wildlife.

However certain species have thrived in the unusual conditions. For example dry conditions meant herbs and plants which get crowded out by coarse grass in wet years, including orchids, did extremely well.

“It was a mixed year. The overall winners were spring insects – not just butterflies and moths, but all the other things like mining bees and bee flies, many of which have done really well,” he said.

“But the late summer insects fared very badly and there will be knock-ons for them in 2012.”

“Early birds nesting in spring also benefited from the good weather.

“There were no periods of foul and abusive weather, which kill things off, until June.

“There weren’t any gusty storms knocking everything out or drowning things in their nests.”

The spring that promised so much gave way to a poor summer, but an Indian summer in the autumn months with spring-like temperatures led to second appearances of wild and garden plants, an abundance of berries and migrant species of birds and insects to UK shores, Mr Oates said.

“It just demonstrates how reactive and strongly influenced wildlife is to weather, and how it can exploit good weather windows like those in the spring and again in the autumn,” he added.

The warm autumn, following on from a good spring, saw an abundance of fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs and trees with a great year for apple, hawthorn, sloes, beechnuts and acorns, while holly and mistletoe berries were also in good supply.

The autumn feast has provided deer, badgers and grey squirrels with plenty of food, and winter birds should also benefit.

But with erratic weather dominating the year, Mr Oates said it was now a question of “what next?!”.

The last good July and August were in 2006, and according to the law of averages – and Mr Oates – 2012 could perhaps just be the year to have a ‘staycation’ or holiday at home.

Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/8978148/British-wildlife-toughs-out-the-weird-weather.html

Climate update : Is climate change to blame for famine in the Horn of Africa?

It’s impossible, says Duncan Green of The Guardian, to answer with a simple yes or no – but here’s a summary of what we think we know so far

So is famine in the Horn of Africa linked to climate change or not? The question arises whenever “extreme weather events” – hurricanes, floods, droughts – hit our TV screens. It’s impossible to answer with a simple yes or no – but here’s what we think we know so far.

 

The current drought conditions have been caused by successive seasons with very low rainfall. Over the past year, the eastern Horn of Africa has experienced two consecutive failed rainy seasons. According to surveys of local communities, this is part of a long-term shift. Borana communities in Ethiopia report that whereas droughts were recorded every six to eight years in the past, they now occur every one to two years.

Meteorological data back up the picture on temperatures: mean annual temperatures increased from 1960-2006 by 1C in Kenya and 1.3C in Ethiopia, and the frequency of hot days is increasing in both countries. Rainfall trends are less clear: according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report, there are no statistically significant trends in rainfall. However, more recent research suggests that rainfall decreased from 1980 to 2009 during the “long-rains” (March to June).

The historical record does not “prove” that the current drought is directly attributable to climate change. True, there are now a few cases in which scientists have been able to estimate the extent to which man-made climate change has made a particular extreme weather event more likely, but these exercises require reliable long-term weather data that only exists for Europe and North America – no such studies as yet exist in the case of the current drought.

What about the future? Globally, climate change modelling projects an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events like droughts and floods. In the absence of urgent action to slash global greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures in the region will probably increase by 3C-4C by 2080-99 relative to 1980-99.

But again, rainfall projections are unclear. Most modelling, as reflected in the IPCC’s last assessment, suggests more rain will fall in the east Africa region as a whole, with an increase in “heavy events” (sudden downpours, so more flood risk). However, some recent studies suggest rainfall will decrease, particularly in the long rains.

The combination of higher temperatures and more unpredictable rains is alarming for food production. One recent estimate published by the Royal Society suggests much of east Africa could suffer a decline in the length of the growing period for key crops of up to 20% by the end of the century, with the productivity of beans falling by nearly 50%.

The conclusion? Attributing the current drought directly to climate change is impossible, but in the words of Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser, in a talk at Oxfam last week, “worldwide, events like this have a higher probability of occurring as a result of climate change”. Moreover, unless something is done, the current suffering offers a grim foretaste of the future – temperatures in east Africa are going to rise and rainfall patterns will change, making a bad situation worse.

What to do? First, remember that while the drought is caused by lack of rainfall, famine is man-made. As the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen famously observed, famines do not occur in functioning democracies. The difference between the minor disruption of hosepipe bans and the misery in the Horn is down to a failure of politics and leadership. It is no accident that the communities worst affected by the drought are not just those blighted by conflict but also by decades of official neglect and contempt from governments, which see pastoralism as an unwanted relic of the past.

Second, the famine shows the extreme vulnerability of poor people to weather events like failed rains. Governments and the international community have to save lives now, but also act to reduce that chronic vulnerability, building local ability to manage the drought cycle, improving the flow of data, information and ideas for adapting to climate change, and drastically increasing long-term investment in smallholder agriculture and pastoralism, which have shown they can provide a decent life for millions of east Africans, provided they are supported (rather than ignored) by governments.

Beyond helping east Africa and other vulnerable regions adapt to impending climate change, it is of course also incumbent on the rich and emerging economies to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that cause it. Fail to do that, and all attempts at adaptation are likely to offer only temporary relief.

• Oxfam last week published a briefing on climate change and drought in east Africa

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