Monday, 9 July 2007

Climate bill call as floods hit people and birds

The Government’s draft climate change bill must address the way we adapt to our changing weather if we are to protect people and wildlife from future floods, says the RSPB. Climate change means that devastating summer floods like those that hit parts of England in recent weeks are likely to become more common.

The society is calling for a large-scale programme of wetland creation and river restoration to help reduce the impact of floods on people and wildlife. Ruth Davis, the RSPB’s head of climate change policy, said: “People in vulnerable communities, together with wildlife, will be hit worst by climate change. They will bear the brunt of more frequent and violent storms, such as those that have hit the UK this summer.

“The RSPB is asking that the draft climate change bill includes much stronger requirements on the Government to ensure we adapt sensibly to the impacts of climate change, precisely because of events like this.

She added: “We need sensible planning laws that do not allow buildings on floodplains, when there is no guarantee they can ever be insured or protected adequately in the future.

“In addition, we must invest public funds in restoring the natural function of rivers and their catchments so they store more water and slow the development of floods.”

This summer’s floods have had a disastrous effect on England’s wading birds – just a year after they were hit by drought in the South-East. In the last two weeks many nests and young have been washed away by flood waters, which have inundated RSPB reserves from East Anglia north through the Midlands and into Yorkshire.

The worst affected reserves are all low-lying wet meadows, which rely on winter flooding and were once common in the landscape. However decades of intensive drainage and flood defence have seen massive losses of habitat and dramatic declines in breeding wading bird numbers. When floods hit the few remaining suitable sites in spring and summer, breeding birds and their young have nowhere to go.

As many as half of the remaining Common Snipe in England’s lowlands could have lost their nests after the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire disappeared under water up to two metres deep. At Sandwell Valley in the West Midlands, all but two of the reserve’s 13 Northern Lapwing chicks have been lost, while at Old Moor in Yorkshire waders were again hit hard as water levels on the site rose three metres in 12 hours.

The rising waters washed out 13 snipe, 10 lapwing and seven Redshank nests. Even Tree Sparrow nests were lost, despite being more than six feet off the ground.

Photo: juvenile Redshank by Steve Young