Natural environment and assets

Climate change is already having an impact on natural systems in the UK. Evidence of long-term shifts in the distribution and abundance of some terrestrial, freshwater and marine species due to higher temperatures is now discernible, despite complex interactions. These shifts can be expected to continue and become more widespread, with some species potentially benefiting, but others losing suitable climate space.

Climate change presents a substantial risk to the vital goods and services provided to people by the natural environment. The continued provision of key goods and services traditionally associated with the natural environment, including clean water, food, timber and fibre, are at risk from climate change. Other goods and services that are less well accounted for, although increasingly being recognised, are also at risk including pollination, carbon storage, natural flood alleviation and the cultural benefits provided by landscapes and wildlife.

The risks from climate change are heightened because the natural environment is already stressed. Historic and on-going pressures include pollution, habitat loss and fragmentation, the continuing drainage of wetlands and the unsustainable use of soil, water and marine resources. These pressures constrain the natural resilience of species and ecosystems and their ability to adjust and adapt. There is therefore a risk that climate change will lead to further species declines and habitat degradation.

There are also potential opportunities that could arise from a modest level of climate change, through extended growing seasons and improved productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. These opportunities will only be realised, however, if limiting factors such as water availability, soil health and pests and diseases are managed.


Lead contributor: Iain Brown (University of York/Stockholm Environment Institute)

Contributing authors: Richard Bardgett (University of Manchester), Pam Berry (University of Oxford), Ian Crute (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board), James Morison (Forest Research), Mike Morecroft (Natural England), John Pinnegar (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), Tim Reeder (Environment Agency), Kairsty Topp (Scotland’s Rural College)

ASC contributor: David Thompson

This chapter at a glance