Social media has helped researchers discover 55 animal species they say have been forced to more to or around the UK because their normal habitat has been disrupted by climate change.
Ten were identified by people posting images on Twitter or Google of animals they hadn’t expected to see where they saw them.
All 55 have been “displaced from their natural ranges or enabled to arrive for the first time on UK shores” say scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The study’s findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
The research also considered UK Government environment reports and 111 scientific papers. It focused solely on species that have established sustainable populations through natural, rather than human-assisted movement.
Lead author Nathalie Pettorelli says UK wildlife is among the most intensively monitored in the world, thanks to sightings from environmentalists, but there is little centralised tracking of species moving due to climate change.
“As it stands, society is not ready for the redistribution of species, as current policies and agreements are not designed for these novel species and ecological communities, particularly if those species have no perceived value to society,” she says. “Our results suggest that many species are on the move in the UK, and that we can expect a lot of changes in the type of nature we will have around us in the coming years.”
Of the 55 species identified, 64% were invertebrates. Only one formally classified as an invasive species – the leathery sea squirt (Styela clava).
The black bee fly (Anthrax anthrax) appears to have arrived in the UK for the first time in 2016; it was reportedly found using a garden bug-hotel in Cambridgeshire.
The Jersey tiger moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria), previously only seen around Jersey and the south coast of England, is now regularly sighted in London.
Bird species forced to move by climate change, the ZSL says, include the purple heron (Ardea purpurea) and tropical-looking European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), which have been nesting in Kent and Nottinghamshire, quite a way from their natural breeding grounds in Africa, central and southern Europe and East Asia.
The study found that 24% of species arriving or moving were having negative impacts on ecological communities and human society – in ways as diverse as damaging crops, spreading disease or complicating planning permission procedures.
Reported sightings of a Eurasian nuthatch (Sitta europaea) in Scotland in 2010 and 2018 were a boost for tourism, however.
UK residents or visitors can submit their rare wildlife sightings on Twitter to @SOTM_UK with #SOTM_UK.
Nick Carne is the editor of Cosmos Online and editorial manager for The Royal Institution of Australia.
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