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National Trust puts climate-sensitive places on the map

Wherever you go in the UK, there are so many incredible sights to see, but climate change could change how we see them forever.

The National Trust is a leading charity which is responsible for heritage conservation across a number of places of interest across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while a separate Trust covers Scottish heritage conservation.

The impact of climate change, and in particular the extreme weather events that we are experiencing with increasing frequency, are one of the most significant threats facing our historic environment.

– Dr Kate Roberts, Cadw’s Head of Historic Environment

As an island nation, the UK is often defined by its striking coastlines – the white cliffs of Dover and other beaches along the Jurassic coast. In Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway offers breath-taking views of hexagonal columns which serve as natural stepping stones, formed by ancient volcanic activity.

Such national treasures could be under threat, as sea levels and temperatures rise, while flora face unprecedented strains. To keep track of potential places of interest at risk due to climate change, the National Trust has published a threat map, giving us a warning for the future.

Too hot for comfort

One of the significant shifts in climate that the National Trust is keeping track of is the likelihood of hotter summers by mid-century. For example, the Trust mentions the potential for 40-degree heat in celsius terms on hot summer days by 2040 – far higher than existing heat waves that we’re used to. Such hot and humid weather could change the way Ham House grows its garden, for example.

If 40-degree summer days become more frequent, Ham House may need to grow plants associated with more tropical climates.

Changes to weather patterns could also mean increased rainfall, combined with the impact of rising sea levels, accelerating the speed of coastal erosion in places such as Birling Gap and Brownsea Island. More storms could mean larger waves slamming into coastlines with increased ferocity. The National Trust’s identification of such sites can help local authorities plan ahead, and put infrastructure in place to minimise the damage if possible.

Keeping an eye on our forests

The UK is home to many species of tree, and plant life. Worldwide, 10 per cent of the world’s trees are at risk of extinction entirely, according to the Royal Forestry Society. This is equivalent to 8,000 separate species in all. Species such as the Woolly willow and common juniper are already in need of protection, and changes to the climate will require a stepping up of conservation efforts.

The National Trust is able to identify places to watch out for, including sites home to naturally-growing heather. Pests such as the heather beetle are likely to proliferate thanks to warmer winters, giving conservationists a heads-up to keep and eye out and be in a position to stop them in their tracks, before they damage any more heather.

Warmer weather also places trees under greater strain – fungal infections such as ash dieback can become more prevalent when a tree’s health is compromised by environmental stress. The National Trust estimated that there was an estimated bill of £2 million to cut down trees which posed a risk of falling and injuring people, as a result of climate change-triggered ash dieback.

While a cure for ash dieback eludes us for now, the National Trust’s threat map can help conservationists target some of the UK’s most at risk forests, putting ash dieback management plans in place to limit the risk of spread.

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