London - Birds, butterflies and bugs that live in southern England are setting up home further north because of warming temperatures.
A study of 250 species which have historically lived in the warmer South shows they are colonising new areas which were previously too cold for them.
Scientists at the University of York analysed millions of records collected by the public over 30 years to work out to where they have been moving and which types of new habitat they chose.
Two birds, the nightjar and woodlark, which were mostly found in southern counties in the 1980s, are now more widespread in the Midlands and North and are even found occasionally in Scotland.
The Dartford Warbler, a small bird which 40 years ago was nearly wiped out with only a small colony in Dorset, is now seen across the Midlands, the researchers said.
The Silver-spotted skipper, a summer butterfly found on chalky downs which was extremely rare, has vastly expanded its breeding grounds within the Chilterns area.
The team’s previous research has shown global warming is driving animals away from the equator towards the poles at the rate of one mile a year.
They believe more than 80 percent of Britain’s species are on the move, with evidence that those which thrive in warmer weather are becoming more numerous in the North, but also consolidating colonies in the South.
This study shows they are four times more likely to move to Britain’s nature reserves than any other wild areas, suggesting they could become havens for species escaping rising temperatures in Europe.
Professor Chris Thomas said: “There was a substantial chance that nature reserves were just losing species as they moved north, and not actually gaining new ones. But we found they were actually far more likely to choose these areas. They are like stepping stones across the landscape, allowing species to set up a new breeding populations.
“As many species move their habitats further north at a phenomenal rate, Britain could become very important for conservation for a lot of species which are not widespread here at the moment, and we need to make sure we have the habitats they need.”
As butterflies and birds, and bugs such as grasshoppers, beetles and dragonflies, move north, they may be increasingly disappearing at the hotter end of their habitat, in southern Europe, he said.
The scientists looked at Sites of Special Scientific Interest of which there are more than 4,000 in Britain. There has been controversy as to whether reserves really help species survive if they will leave when temperatures get warmer and settle on farms or woodland further north.
But this study, published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found they are valuable, even for species which have never lived there before, as more and more of the landscape is dominated by farming and urban sprawl.
Dr Richard Bradbury, of the RSPB, said: “Sites of importance for wildlife stand out like beacons in otherwise impoverished landscapes.
“Protecting these arks, as well as restoring and recreating new ones where we can, will provide the vital network enabling more species to survive the spectre of climate change.” - Daily Mail