Wildlife in the UK is being forced to move to different regions as climate change and foreign species makes existing habitats uninhabitable

  • A study found a total of 55 species in the UK are new entries or have migrated 
  • Since 2008 animals have entered new regions in the search for suitable habitat
  • Many spread northwards in the bid to find cooler homes due to climate change  

Some of the UK’s most colourful and iconic species are being forced to spread their wings and head to regions outside of their natural habitat due to climate chage and invading foreign species.

Over the past decade, animals such as the green-fanged tube web spider, Jersey tiger moths and the wasp spider have all been found colonising new areas. 

A total of 54 land-based and marine animals were found to have migrated around the UK since 2008, according to a study by the Zoological Society of London.

One other species, the black bee fly was the only animal to enter the UK for the first time and become established in the past decade.  

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Purple herons (pictured), which have bred successfully for the first time in Kent in 2010, were found by social media to be moving to new regions 

Jersey tiger moths (pictured) have spread from the Channel Islands and south coast to London where they have not been seen before

Social media was a valuable asset in understanding where the animals had moved to and revealed dozens of animals, from birds to bats, are on the move. 

Ten of the 54 species were identified thanks to social media, the research published in the Journal of Applied Ecology shows. 

They include purple herons, which have bred successfully for the first time in Kent in 2010, and European bee-eaters which bred in the UK in 2014 and 2017.

Jersey tiger moths have spread from the Channel Islands and south coast to London, while red mullet and greater horseshoe bats have also been displaced by climate change. 

Only one has been formally classified as an invasive species – the leathery sea squirt (Styela clava).

The study analysed UK Government environment reports and 111 scientific papers to find species that were on the move as a result of rising temperatures.

Researchers also performed Twitter and Google searches for terms including ‘unusual species’ and ‘first sighting’ for the countries of the UK to find where people had posted images online of the animals in unusual places. 

One species, the black bee fly was the only animal to enter the UK for the first time and become established in the past decade

The study analysed UK Government environment reports and 111 scientific papers to find species that were on the move as a result of rising temperatures and how it is making some species, such as the European bee-eater (pictured) expand its range 

The research, which focused only on species that had established sustainable new populations through natural movement, said of the 55 species identified, 16 (29 per cent) are known to have negative impacts on nature or people.

They include crop pests such as the box tree moth and oak borer beetle.

A further 11 species (20 per cent) were reported to have potentially positive impacts, such as increasing tourism or boosting fish stocks.

Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, lead author and senior research fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, said: ‘We are currently massively unprepared for the climate-driven movement of species that is happening right now in the UK.

‘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.

‘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.

‘But the lack of an integrated national platform dedicated to tracking and communicating about species displaced by climate change is currently a hindrance to mitigating those potential ecological, economic and societal associated impacts.’

They include purple herons, which have bred successfully for the first time in Kent in 2010, and European bee-eaters which bred in the UK in 2014 and 2017

WHAT ARE SOME OF 55 ANIMALS MIGRATING AROUND THE UK? 

1) Anthrax anthrax – Black bee fly

The black bee fly is the only species we picked up which has entered the UK for the first time and established since 2008, the first record of the species was in Cambridgeshire in 2016. It was found on a bug-hotel in a garden. Despite the worrying name ‘Anthrax anthrax,’ which is related to the bee fly’s colour, it is totally harmless.

2) Argiope bruennichi – Wasp spider

The wasp spider is a species of orb-web spider and it mimics a wasp’s colouring to warn off predators and avoid attack. However, despite the warning signals, these spiders are actually harmless. They have previously inhabited southern England but now are spreading further north.

3) Ardea purpurea – Purple heron

The purple heron is an exciting sight for birdwatchers in the UK. This rare bird has been a visitor to Britain before but only nested and bred successfully for the first time in 2010 in Kent. Such an exciting event can attract a lot of attention from birdwatches and in some cases the RSPB have had to give the birds extra protection to ensure their safety.

4) Bombus hypnorum – Tree bumblebee

The tree bumblebee is also a relatively new species to the UK, it arrived in 2001 and has been spreading northwards since. It reached Scotland for the first time in 2013. Although the tree bumblebee is not usually aggressive, they will defend their nest if they feel threatened. Sometimes they are seen to swarm around the nest but this is just the male bees looking for mating opportunities.

5) Euplagia quadripunctaria – Jersey tiger moth

The Jersey tiger moth is a colourful, day-flying moth which can be found feeding on flowers and could be mistaken for a butterfly. This species was restricted to the Channel Islands and the south coast until recently; they are now frequently seen in and around London.

6) Lestes barbarous – Southern emerald damselfly

The southern emerald damselfly is a characteristic metallic green colour, which can turn to bronze as the insect ages. They have been visiting the UK from continental Europe since 2002, but in Norfolk in 2018 they were recorded to be breeding for the first time.

7) Merops apiaster – European bee-eater

This tropical-looking bird has also been a visitor in the UK before from its warmer native range in the Mediterranean and North Africa. But for the first time in 2014 and again in 2017, pairs have nested and bred in the UK. They often nest in sandy banks near to rivers.

8) Mullus surmuletus – Red mullet

The red mullet, also known as the goatfish or striped mullet, is a popular food fish in Europe and found throughout the Mediterranean and Black Sea. It is not currently targeted by UK anglers but if populations increase this could become a popular fishing target.

9) Rhinolophus ferrumequinum – Greater horseshoe bat

The greater horseshoe bats are rare in the UK but populations are increasing, they are listed on the Biodiversity Action Plan list for the UK. They tend to roost in old buildings, such as churches and barn and they feed on midges, moths and other flying insects at night using echolocation.

10) Segestria florentina – Tube web spider

This tube web spider, also known as a cellar spider, may look menacing but it is not dangerous to humans. They are identifiable by their bright green jaws, which are able to bite humans, but they will only bite if provoked – the British Arachnological Society suggests not sticking fingers into their webs to avoid this. The females reach a maximum size of 22mm and males only reach 15mm.

 

 

 

 

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