Global warming is driving some of Scotland’s most totemic plants and animals north in search of cooler climes. But many are running out of land – and facing extinction as a result as their entire ecosystems, including peat moorlands, disappear.
That, at least, is the conclusion of the latest report to flag up this country’s specific vulnerability to climate change.
“Scotland’s position at the western edge of the European continent will exacerbate the impacts of climate change as it limits the extent to which species can move in response to changed climatic conditions,” said researchers working for the World Wildlife Fund and Scottish Environment LINK. “For terrestrial species that need to move north to track suitable climate space, there is, quite literally, nowhere to go.”
Their report, Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert, stresses that it is not just land animals and plants which face an existential threat as average temperatures rise. Iconic species at risk include the Atlantic Salmon, the Capercaillie and the freshwater pearl mussel. The white beaked dolphin lives in subpolar waters. Warming seas means it is expected to move north.
There are particular worries about the Arctic charr. This was the first freshwater fish to recolonise Scotland’s lochs after the retreat of the ice age. The species is already at its southern limit. Scientists make an obvious point: unlike sea fish or dolphins facing similar dangers, it cannot simply swim north. The charr, suggest experts, lives or dies in Scottish lochs.