Many are questioning whether environmental change is real. After all, last winter was the coldest in 30 years, and there have recently been rumours of doctored evidence.
In this hour-long special Chris Packham shows that nature provides clues that clearly show environmental change is a real, current and complicated concern. He also looks at what conservationists and the public can do to help wildlife cope with the pressure that it brings.
The programme outlines the proof of environmental change that comes from phenology, the study of natural seasonal events. This evidence shows that, over the centuries, our world has warmed up. Many of these data have come from amateur naturalists and passionate nature enthusiasts, like Jean Combes who, for 62 years, has been recording the first dates of oak leaves breaking out of bud. Robert Marsham, a 17th century naturalist, started the whole modern approach to phenology. Chris reveals how records kept for hundreds of years show us the seasons are changing, one study showing that spring is arriving 11 days earlier than it used to 30 years ago.
Chris visits Oxford University’s Wytham Wood to investigate how the fabric of our natural food chains is under threat from a breakdown in the natural balance and timing of nature – its synchronicity. Some species are coping well but others, particularly migrant birds, seem to struggle.
Chris explores what a warmer world will mean for individual British species like mountain hares, likely to lose out as their mountain top homes lack snow in a warmer world and this leaves them vulnerable to predators as their winter white coats stand out on snowless brown hillsides. He also shows us there will be winners too – bats, for instance, will flourish in milder winters.
The programme argues that humans should now try to help. It does this by explaining how climate change is almost certainly caused by humankind, not the natural cycles of the Earth’s climate. The vast majority of scientists remain convinced that this is so. We therefore have a duty to deal with the effects. How can we help our wildlife adapt to rapid changes in habitats and food chains?
Chris considers that the idea of nature reserves must change. We need to start looking at ‘Landscape Scale Conservation’. This is the idea that a landscape must work for wildlife and people at the same time. An example is Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Pumlumon Project in Wales. Here they are asking insurance companies to pay a few thousand pounds to restore habitats. The same companies will save millions of pounds, because the new habitats will help prevent extreme flood events by soaking up rainfall. It’s a complex approach to conservation but an exciting step forward that will help nature deal with climate change by giving it a whole landscape through which it can move and adapt.
Conserving our landscape isn’t the only challenge. We sometimes forget we are an island, surrounded by sea. Marine conservation is sadly lacking in the UK, with only three marine nature reserves currently designated. Chris calls for our marine life to be better protected and he assesses the progress of the Government’s Marine Bill.
Springwatch champions people taking action in their own lives to help nature. To round the programme off, Chris reminds us that, whilst big conservation efforts are underway by large charities and the government, we can still do our bit. It could be as simple as helping to create urban wildlife corridors by getting your school to plant a mini woodland, or helping creatures to move as environmental change puts them under pressure. Also, vitally important, is to keep up all that phenology; monitoring our seasons will be the key to telling us how well conservation efforts are succeeding in the future.
We can all do our bit. Springwatch will have many suggestions as to how everyone can get involved. It will contain a wealth of extra information and links to two exciting new initiatives from The Open University – iSpot and Creative Climate.
First broadcast: Monday 17 May 2010 on BBC TWO