A little egret (Egretta garzetta), which colonised the UK in 1999, forages in a reed bed. Photo Credit: Alan Cranston

By James Cranston, Sarah Crowley, and Regan Early.

Read the full article here.

When we think of climate change we tend to think of species loss and extinction. However, climate and habitat change are also causing many species to disperse and spread to new regions. In the UK, we have several new species from birds, like the little egret, (pictured) to insects, like the small red-eyed damselfly. While these animals may face threats from climate change in the regions they have come from, we don’t know what ecological and social implications they may have for the regions in which they arrive.

We wanted to find out more how people perceived these new arrivals and what might be driving those attitudes. Using an online survey, we reached over 300 naturalists involved in wildlife recording across the UK. Our findings suggested that most naturalists had positive attitudes towards these new species establishing, particularly for birds, as captured in this response:

“This [Little Egret] is a species which was quite a rarity when I first saw one in 1988. Nowadays they are part of the landscape […] experiencing the Little Egret colonisation was very exciting – mostly because they were “exotic” Mediterranean birds and they arrived by themselves.”

When it came to species management they remained more on the fence, with many respondents desiring further information on 1) the potential impacts of new arrivals on native species and 2) the potential benefits any action might have on the species broader conservation status and the actions’ value for money. Nevertheless, they leaned more in favour of supporting new arrivals rather than controlling them at present.

Admittedly, naturalists may have stronger and more ecologically informed views that other stakeholders in biodiversity conservation making them unrepresentative of the wider public. However, this group is likely to be at the forefront of data collection on the distribution and ecological effects of range-shifting species. They are therefore a critical group that future policy makers will want to consult as they begin considering how these new species are included in UK biodiversity conservation.