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Climate change - what it is and what it means; GO GREEN - How we could all be affected by climate change.

Byline: WARREN MANGER

WARWICKSHIRE is the epitome of England's green and pleasant land - a county so beautiful it inspired author JRR Tolkien to create his famous Middle Earth. But for how much longer? Climate change is already taking its toll and the Coventry and Warwickshire we know and love is changing right before our eyes.

WARREN MANGER looks at some of the tell-tale signs and possible consequences of local climate change.

CHANGING WEATHER

FLOODING is the most obvious example of how Coventry and Warwickshire is struggling to come to terms with extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change.

Flash floods caused by torrential downpours during June and July last summer caused millions of pounds worth of damage across the region.

The worst hit were families and businesses who had untreated sewage washed into their homes, bars, shops and offices by the flood waters.

Dr Sue Charlesworth, head of Coventry University's Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (Suds) project, believes the floods are caused by a combination of more intense periods of rainfall combined with too much concrete leading to high water run-off.

"The two definitely go hand-in-hand to cause these floods," she said.

"The severest storms like last year's will always cause floods, but introducing more sustainable drainage to limit surface water would have saved families from having sewage in their front rooms."

Records at Bablake Weather Station show the day-to-day weather in Coventry and Warwickshire has been changing too.

For example, the average spring and autumn temperatures recorded in Coventry have both risen significantly in the past 30 years.

The record for Coventry's hottest autumn was broken in both 2005 and 2006, while seven of the 10 warmest autumns in the city's history have been since 1990.

Last year also saw the warmest spring ever in Coventry.

Meanwhile, winter rainfall is on the decrease, with January and February both seeing a third less rain on average this decade than during the 90s.

This is already having an impact on local wildlife and farming, causing plants to flower earlier in the year, migratory birds to nest earlier and changing how crops grow.

But it is not all bad news.

The weather station at Bablake School, Coundon Road, Radford, has recorded a year-round rise in the amount of sunshine Coventry and Warwickshire receives.

WILDLIFE

PEOPLE are not the only ones being affected by climate change in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Rising temperatures and flash floods are having a devastating affect on the area's wildlife, washing away their homes and destroying their natural habitats.

Last summer's torrential downpours flooded water voles' riverbank homes, putting further pressure on the already extinction-threatened animals.

Worse still, almost an entire generation of wading birds like the redshank were lost to the floods as their nests were washed away and the high waters destroyed the wetland grasses where the chicks eat insects.

The rapid growth of duckweed on canals and ponds, particularly in and around Rugby, is threatening to destroy our freshwater eco-systems.

Rising temperatures mean the tiny flowering plants are growing faster than ever and there are fewer water birds to feed on them because of the floods washing nests away.

Jo Preston, from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust said: "As the duckweed forms a carpet across the water it cuts off the oxygen, killing all aquatic life lying there."

"This includes the rat-tailed maggot and freshwater hog louse, together with roach and chub (fish species). Ultimately the food chain is affected as each thing dies."

Other effects of climate change include the arrival of the hairy dragonfly, which has migrated to Warwickshire this year as a result of rising temperatures.

Warmer weather has also meant migrating birds have been arriving in the area and nesting earlier in the year, with many plants starting to flower and trees blossoming earlier.

THE FUTURE

A STUDY by Sustainability West Midlands warns that climate change could cause numerous problems in Coventry and Warwickshire during the coming years. These include:

Intense rainfall causing flash floods, damaging homes or the foundations of roads, railways and runways.

More road accidents as drivers' concentration suffers in hot summer weather.

Rising summer temperatures, causing tarmac roads and runways to melt.

Damage to buildings as summer droughts lead to dry soil shrinking and subsidence. This is a particular risk if they are built on clay soil.

The amount of land which can be used for growing crops could be reduced by flooding in winter and droughts in summer. Farming could also suffer from a sharp increase in pests and crop diseases if temperatures rise.

More disruption to rail services as hot weather causes rail lines to buckle and overhead cables to sag.

Milder winters could lead to a rising problem of mould growing in houses.

To see the study The Potential Impacts of Climate Change in the West Midlands, published by Sustainability West Midlands, visit www.ukcip.org.uk.

SHOULD COVENTRY INTRODUCE A CONGESTION CHARGE? CAST YOUR VOTE IN OUR ONLINE POLL AT www.coventrytelegraph.net/gogreen

CAPTION(S):

THE EFFECTS CAN ALREADY BE SEEN... Experts say climate change is already bringing floods like those experienced last summer (above), which in turn destroyed almost an entire generation of wading birds like the redshank (top right), while rising temperatures are leading to a rapid growth of duckweed (right), which is threatening to destroy our freshwater eco-systems.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 23, 2008
Words:887
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