New Climate Change Adaptation Manual—Evidence to support nature conservation in a changing world (UK)



New Climate Change Adaptation Manual—Evidence to support nature conservation in a changing world (UK)



Science into practice: Helping nature conservationists prepare for climate change

3 June 2014

Natural England and the RSPB, in partnership with the Environment Agency’s Climate Ready Support Service and the Forestry Commission have today published a new resource for conservation practitioners: ‘Climate change adaptation manual: evidence to support nature conservation in a changing climate’. There is strong evidence that climate change is already affecting wildlife and habitats; species such as the Dartford warbler and the bee orchid are moving further north and recent storms have highlighted the vulnerability of coastal and wetland habitats. But we can reduce the risks of climate change and, in some cases, make the most of new opportunities for species and habitats.  The Climate Change Adaptation Manual helps land managers and conservationists to plan and take action to limit the impacts of climate change on the natural environment. This is a ground-breaking step forward in responding to the risks recently highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its report ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. The manual is a hands-on document giving up-to-date, detailed, habitat-specific information for conservation managers to use, to prepare and respond to a changing climate.  It is divided into three sections, focusing on:

  • the key concepts for making decisions about adaptation and the impact of climate change on the natural environment;
  • climate change impacts and potential adaptation responses for 27 of England’s most important habitats; and
  • the relationship between climate change and the delivery of ecosystem services.

….Martin Harper, Conservation Director at the RSPB said: “We’re already witnessing the impacts of climate change at RSPB nature reserves across the country – and we’re taking action to ensure we protect wildlife from these changes. If we are going to help threatened species adapt to a warmer climate then we need to act fast. We also need to work together and share knowledge and experience – I hope this manual will help us do just that. Science has given us a clear warning about the future and we have no excuse for not acting now.”……The Climate Change Adaptation Manual can be found on Natural England’s publications catalogue.


2. Principles of climate change adaptation


This section introduces climate change adaptation in general terms and provides links to the main evidence and policy documents. Adaptation is about tackling the vulnerabilities and risks climate change brings and making the most of any opportunities. More formally, adaptation can be defined as the adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities, (IPCC 4th Assessment report Working Group 2 Glossary). Adaptation is necessary and relevant to all areas of life. Within the UK, the National

While the natural environment is the focus of this manual, it cannot be seen in isolation from wider human needs and activities. There is increasing evidence that the natural environment can be managed in ways that will help people adapt to climate change, as well as providing benefits for nature and its conservation. This is sometimes known as ecosystem – based adaptation, and examples include creating wetlands where they can provide a buffer against flooding, and creating green spaces or planting trees in towns to lower the temperature locally (as a result of shading and the cooling effect of water loss from leaves).On the other hand, it is possible for adaptation in one sector to hinder adaptation in others. For example, hard sea defences designed to reduce coastal flooding may prevent the natural readjustment of the shoreline and lead to a loss of coastal habitats. There are circumstances in which this may have to be accepted, for example to protect coastal towns, but often it will be possible to identify alternatives, using coastal habitats as ‘soft’ defences that provide adaptation for both people and nature.


The concept of sustainable adaptation provides a useful way of looking at some of the prerequisites for a long-term, integrated approach to adaptation, including the synergies and trade-offs associated with cross-sectoral adaptation.


Four principles for sustainable adaptation have been proposed (Macgregor and Cowan 2011):

1. Adaptation should aim to maintain or enhance the environmental, social and economic benefits provided by a system, while accepting and accommodating inevitable changes to it.

2. Adaptation should not solve one problem while creating or worsening others. Action that has multiple benefits and avoids creating negative effects for other people, places and sectors should be prioritised.

3. Adaptation should seek to increase resilience to a wide range of future risks and address all aspects of vulnerability, rather than focusing solely on specific projected climate impacts.

4. Approaches to adaptation should be flexible and not limit future action.


Adaptation options can only be evaluated in this way if the objectives and benefits of conservation action are clearly framed. We need to understand what we are adapting for, as well as the impacts we are adapting to. An important aspect of sustainable adaptation is identifying action that would maintain or enhance the multiple benefits an area provides to society, by reducing vulnerability to a range of possible consequences of climate change. Climate projections necessarily define a range of potential future climates, and there is considerable uncertainty about the cascade of possible consequences for natural systems. It is usually more appropriate to consider a broad range of likely outcomes, as highly detailed or precise projections risk giving a false level of confidence; the UK Climate Projections 2009 facilitate this approach. Adaptive management is a commonly used management concept, not specific to climate change adaptation, and is based on a cycle of action, monitoring, review, and, if necessary, revision of actions. It is especially relevant to climate change adaptation, where the nature of impacts and the effectiveness of adaptation measures will become clearer over time. Effective monitoring of changes in the species, habitats and other features of the site is an essential prerequisitefor this approach. Monitoring of the effectiveness of interventions is also required.


While some adaptation measures, such as changing grassland management, or increasing the capture of winter rain, may take only a few years to implement, others such as creating habitats can take much longer. For example, the RSPB’s Lakenheath Fen project took around ten years from inception to bitterns becoming established. Other habitats, for example woodland, are likely to take much longer to mature and achieve their desired ecological state. With such long lead-in times for some adaptation measures, it is important to start adaption now.


The Government’s National Adaptation Programme sets out 4 focal areas for adaptation in the natural environment.

■■ Building ecological resilience to the impacts of climate change;

■■ Preparing for and accommodating inevitable change;

■■ Valuing the wider adaptation benefits the natural environment can deliver;

■■ Improving the evidence base.


The following sections expand on these areas.


And the US Climate-Smart Conservation Guide:









The National Wildlife Federation’s Climate Smart Conservation – Putting Adaptation Principles Into Practice looks at how climate change already is affecting the nation’s wildlife and habitats, and addresses how natural resource managers will need to prepare for and adapt to these unprecedented changes. Developed by a broad collaboration of experts from federal, state, and non-governmental institutions, the guide offers practical steps for crafting conservation actions to enhance the resilience of the natural ecosystems on which wildlife and people depend.

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