Press release

Environment minister views impacts of climate change in Cumbria

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A report from Natural England has predicted that changes to the climate in the high fells could alter the landscape as we see it today.

Environment Minister Lord Henley today visited the high fells of Cumbria to see the impact of a year of weather extremes on the area and to discuss the changes needed over the next 30 years to adapt to the changing climate.

A report from Natural England has predicted that changes to the climate in the high fells could alter the landscape as we see it today - and bring a change in the wildlife that rely on the habitats provided by the fells.

The Lake District is already experiencing large fluctuations in weather patterns, particularly rainfall. In Cumbria, for the year from July 2009 to June of this year nine of the 12 months experienced lower than normal rainfall, resulting in the hosepipe bans we have seen this summer. But during the three months in which rainfall was above average, it was very, very wet. July and August were among the wettest summer months ever recorded in Cumbria. This was followed by the extreme rainfall in November 2009 which broke numerous records and led to large-scale flooding across the region.

Although no single weather event can be attributed to climate change, the extremes seen in Cumbria give an indication of what the UK might expect in a changing climate.

Lord Henley met with representatives from Natural England, the National Trust and the Lake District National Park Authority at Ullswater Lake and the Aira Force waterfall to discuss the need to ensure that farmers, tourism and the natural environment of the high fells can adapt to climate change.

Lord Henley said:

“The climate in Cumbria and across the world is changing due to the emissions already locked in the atmosphere. There will be impacts - positive and negative - for farmers, the leisure and tourism industry and for the natural environment.”

“Defra will be working closely with all interested parties in Cumbria to ensure that we can adapt effectively to the change in climate which is happening to take advantage of the positive changes and minimise as far as possible the negative impacts of climate change.”

A report by Natural England on the specific potential impact for the Cumbria high fells from climate change concluded that: -

  • England’s peat soils store around 300 million tonnes of carbon and, like many upland areas; the Cumbria High Fells need to be specifically managed as a future carbon store. Significant amounts of carbon will be emitted if the drier summers and heavier rain expected from climate change are allowed to dry out or erode peat supplies.
  • Many species in the area are likely to expand their range - the ruddy darter and the hairy dragonfly have been present in Cumbria since 2001 and the heath fritillary butterfly may colonise the area. Garlic mustard and cow parsley will benefit from a warmer environment, although others species will decline, such as the stiff sedge plant, the ice age relic fish the arctic char, and the mountain ringlet butterfly, which faces local extinction.
  • More extreme cycles of wetting and drying may also affect the foundations of walls and historic buildings, iconic features of this region.
  • Summer drought could lead to a decrease in the water available for recreation. A decline in water quality, due to reduced dilution of pollutants, and an increase in algal blooms may also affect the recreational potential of the lakes during summer.
  • While broad habitat types may persist, such as heathland and lakes, the characteristic species that make up these habitats may be different, subtly altering the appearance of the Lakeland landscape.
  • The mountain habitats of the Cumbria High Fells are particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change, in particular increases in temperature.

Notes

  • Lord Henley visited the Ullswater and Aira Force National Trust property, see www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-ullswaterandairaforce-2
  • The report from Natural England can be found at www.naturalengland.org.uk/ourwork/climateandenergy/climatechange/adaptation/naturalengland.aspx
  • Natural Environment White Paper
    To be published in Spring 2011, it will be a bold and ambitious statement outlining the Government’s vision for the natural environment, backed up with practical action to deliver that ambition. A discussion document launched on the 26th of July will gather ideas, knowledge and expertise which will feed into the White Paper. The deadline for responses to this document is 30 October 2010 and details of how to respond can be found via www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/
  • National Ecosystem Assessment
    To value and manage our natural environment better Defra is currently sponsoring an independent two-year assessment of the UK’s ecosystems. The NEA is a complete analysis of the UK’s natural environment (terrestrial, freshwater and marine) in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity. The NEA will publish its final report in Spring 2011. For further information see: http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/