How Climate Change is Destroying Ireland’s Wildlife

As temperatures surge and sea levels rise, climate change is steadily reducing our planet to an irreversible state of catastrophe.

Worldwide, our landscapes are under threat. With increasing forest fires, flooding, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, our landscapes and their habitats are being destroyed on a seismic scale.

But there’s a much bigger picture to climate change than just the major disasters we are seeing globally. Gradual changes in increasing air temperature, rising sea levels and increasing rainfall happening daily are having major impacts on the wildlife living within our landscapes, and islands are even more vulnerable to these effects.

Ireland is already beginning to see some of the effects of climate change, and projections show that this is only going to continue to get worse.

For Ireland, climate change means a major loss in biodiversity for its native plant species and animals, and the speed at which climate change is occurring is too fast a rate for many of these species to adapt. But how exactly is climate change affecting these species and what species are affected?

Birds

Puffins

Puffins are found in the summer along Irish coastlines, and are one of the many bird species under threat from climate change.

But why exactly? An increase in climate temperatures. Specifically, around a 1 degree Celsius increase within the last 120 years, with Ireland having had 15 of the top 20 hottest years recorded since 1990. Upon first glance, this increase in global temperature may not be as high as you’d think, but the impact of this mark up in air temperature is massively impacting marine wildlife – the puffin’s only source of food.

The increase in climate temperatures has meant that different species of plankton have migrated elsewhere rather than in their usual Irish waters. Thus, fish species, such as herring and sand eels, are losing one of their major food sources and decreasing in numbers – having a knock-on effect on the number of puffins in the Irish coastal landscape.

Dunlin and Common Scoters

Global warming has left many native species of birds in Ireland having to migrate to colder climates and having to change their wintering distributions. This has caused a decline in the numbers of bird species over time in Ireland, the Dunlin being one of these species.

Similar to the Dunlin, you’ll find that the Common Scoters are falling in numbers in Ireland. These birds are simply not used to the changing climatic conditions that climate change is causing, and the continued impacts of climate change – including rising sea levels and extreme weather – will only have further negative implications for bird species like the Dunlin and Common Scoter in the near future.

Sea Life

Species of Fish

Climate change is undoubtedly having a massive impact on our ocean environments. Studies are showing that increases in sea temperatures and changes in salt content around the Irish coastline may mean certain species such as salmon, eels and cod may have to migrate to colder climates.

The increase in sea temperatures may also attract non-native predators into Irish waters. The Chinese Mitten Crab is a species that feeds on juvenile fish and fish eggs, which may have a devastating impact on the population of different fish species around the coast and in inland rivers. The anticipated effects of droughts and flooding in the future means that both trout and salmon supplies in rivers around Ireland may be damaged in the future also. 

Insects

Bumblebees

The world’s biggest pollinator, bees are at severe risk of depleting numbers as a result of climate change. The rise in temperatures we are seeing globally means that bumblebee populations are declining all around the world – and Ireland is no exception.

Without bumblebees, many crops we rely on for food could not be pollinated, and at the current rate of decline, the disappearing bumblebee rates are “consistent with mass extinction” according to researchers.  

 Mammals

Irish Hare

The Irish hare is thought to date back as far as the late Pleistocene period and is still found in Ireland to this day. It is a subspecies of the mountain hare and, like most wildlife in Ireland, is being subject to the harrowing effects of climate change.

Changes in precipitation patterns and increasing global temperatures means that the Irish hare will have its suitable climatic space decrease by 75% within the next 50 years, having to retreat from a warmer and more agriculturally intense area of south-east Ireland to the north west. And, eventually, it appears that the climate in Ireland may favour non-native hare and rabbit invaders and will leave the Irish hare with little land to take refuge, meaning it may eventually become extinct in Ireland.

Plants

Bluebells

The increasing climate temperatures means that gorgeous native species such as the bluebell that pave Irish woodland areas may be a sight we no longer see in the future. 

Increasing temperatures cause the plant to bloom outside of the plant’s optimum spring conditions, and thus places them at risk of premature death and decreases their period of reproduction. 

Is climate change actually having a positive impact on some native Ireland species?

But, it’s not all necessarily bad news. Climate change has appeared to have a positive impact on some native Irish species, specifically different species of deer including reds, fallow and Sika.

An increase in these native species has been said to have been “greatly enabled by climate change” according to Liam Nolan, the director of Deer Alliance – an organising body who certify and assess those who are involved in managing, conserving and stalking the wild deer population in Ireland.

However, it appears that the Irish Wildlife pays its price in other ways. The Sika species in particular contribute to a mass amount of tree damage, particularly for broadleaf and conifer species, and an increase in the deer population will continue to: compromise tree viability in the future, reduce the quality of wood of the trees, cause damage to agricultural crops as a result of deer grazing, increase the prevalence of deer-carrying diseases and increase deer-related road traffic collisions. The surge in deer populations means that mass culling may have to increase further as climate change continues in order to protect Irish wildlife.

The impact of climate change on wildlife in Ireland is profoundly negative. This article not only highlights our urgent need to work and fight against the effects of climate change but also hopefully compels you to work amongst your communities to do whatever you can to conserve the habitats and lives of the much-loved native species of Ireland.

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Charlotte Pitts

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