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More drought, more storms, more gales - experts say climate change is putting Wales' wildlife under threat; SPECIAL REPORT.

Byline: Andrew Forgrave Rural Affairs Editor

IN RECENT years, Snowdon's climate has changed ominously.

Its minimum temperature has jumped by 1.2 degrees in less than 30 years and, since the early 1990s, its average snowline has risen by 203m.

At the same time, its snow season has declined to almost a month and, for a mountain already accustomed to high rainfall, there are have been striking increases since scientists began a new monitoring programme seven years ago.

Although climate trends are notoriously difficult to assess, the implications for North Wales are clear - we seem to be moving towards a warmer, wetter, more oceanic climate.

These new findings, outlined by the Countryside Council for Wales, are in line with long-term climate predictions.

According to Professor John Farrar, director of the Institute of Environmental Science at Bangor University, Wales will become steadily warmer.

By 2080, average temperatures will rise by 1.1C to 2.9C, there will be seven pc to 24pc more rain in winter and, conversely, seven pc to 14pc less in summer.

Furthermore, the climate will become more variable.

Prof Farrar said: "There will be more drought years, more wet years, more extreme years.

"More of the rain will fall in intense, violent storms and there will be more severe gales.

"Last autumn's heavy rain and flooding is typical. Flooding will become up to 10 times as frequent, in part because sea level will rise by 18 to 79cm."

The CCW has outlined predicted climate changes in the latest edition of its magazine, Natur Cymru.

It details how Wales will have to learn to live with floods and droughts, build more reservoirs, and species like alpine plants, bird cherry and the Northern footman moth wll gradually disappear and the dormouse, nightingale, kingfisher and mistletoe increase.

Rory Francis, of Cadw Cymru, quotes a Woodland Trust report which, in the worst scenario, envisages a time 100 years from now when rising temperatures have left Welsh woodlands bereft of oaks, alders, bluebells, warblers and other migratory birds.

As an emergency measure, he predicts native broadleaf trees will be replaced with hardy non-native conifers to stabilise the soils and remove pervasive Japanese knotweed.

Whether this becomes a reality is still open to debate. A monitoring scheme has been underway on Snowdon since 1995, one of 12 Environmental Change Network sites in the UK, to assess climate trends by measuring wildlife populations.

Clive Warmsley, a CCW ecologist, said some changes are already apparent. Frog spawning has started earlier, from late March in 1996 to early February in 2000, and there has been an increase in bat activity around Llyn Llydaw.

If these trends continue, it will affect wildlife, agriculuture and forestry. Changes to grass growth, overwintering of pests and heat stress to livestock may force farmers to consider new varieties of crops or land use, says Prof Farrar.

He said: "Ironically there will be too much rainfall in the winter, with flooding, and too little - water supply may be unable to meet summer demand over a significant proportion of Wales by 2025.

"Since it often takes 20 years to plan and build a reservoir, we just have time to put infrastructure in place."

Flood defences will need to be improved, although these will be unlikely to save ecological communities from change.

Sand dunes, estuaries and coastal marshes will be at risk from flooding, while other areas like raised bogs, will be in danger of drying out.

Wales is contributing to its own problems. Emissions of greenhouse gases from Wales rose by five pc between 1990 and 1995, compared with a fall of 10pc for the UK.

Prof Farrar said: "The development of green tourism could lead to a greater respect for, and protection of, key habitats and species.

"Plans to extend tourism into autumn and spring may need to be revisited in the light of the worsening weather predicted."

Natur Cymru, pounds 3.50, from Radnorshire Wildlife Trust, Llandrindod Wells.

Here for the colours

HUNDREDS of people are expected to visit two forests in south Gwynedd over the next two weeks as autumn colours reach their dramatic peak.

As part of the Forestry Commission's Autumn Colours campaign, foresters have been recording the changes of colour at both Coed y Brenin forest, near Dolgellau, and Tan y Coed forest, near Corris, both of them open to the public. It follows last weekend's Forest Festival at Betws y Coed, organised by Forest Enterprise Wales, which attracted between 8-10,000 visitors.

A free bilingual information pack giving advice on the best woods to visit during autumn is available by phoning 0845 367 3787.

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EARTH TONES: The autumn colours at Coed y Brenin, near Dolgellau, are expected to draw in plenty of visitors over the next fortnight
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 25, 2001
Words:792
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