A new study by scientists at the University of York and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) shows that bird species which have colonised the UK in recent decades breed initially almost exclusively in nature reserves and other areas specially protected for wildlife.
First author, Jonathan Hiley, a PhD student in the Department of Biology at York, said: "Nature reserves provide ecological welcome mats for new arrivals."
Published online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B., the study shows that, of the 20 wetland bird species that bred for the first time in the UK since 1960, 18 bred first in these protected areas. Protected areas were crucial as the population established and grew. Once established in reserves, the birds began to spread out into other locations as they expanded their ranges across the country.
For some warmth-loving southern species, such as Little Egrets and Cetti's Warblers, these arrivals appear to be in response to a changing climate. For others, such as Common Cranes, they are a response to other factors, such as recovery from historical loss of habitat or persecution.
The mainstay of traditional conservation has been to establish protected areas to provide refuges against the loss of habitats and other threats in the surrounding countryside. Ironically, this study comes at a time when the value of protected areas is being questioned in some quarters because climate change and other factors cause animals to move away from their traditional haunts and into new regions.
However, species which are shifting their ranges also need high quality places to move into. For birds, at least, it appears that the current network of protected areas in the UK is providing such places.
"This study shows that the hugely important role that nature reserves and protected areas play will continue undiminished in the future," according to Jonathan Hiley.
Co-author Professor Chris Thomas, of the
|Contact: David Garner|
University of York