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“Ecological refugees” are welcomed by wildlife watchers

Many animal species around the world are currently leaving areas that are becoming too warm, and move into areas that were previously too cold. According to a new study led by the University of Exeter, wildlife watchers generally welcome species that have arrived in the United Kingdom due to climate change.

The scientists asked volunteers who contribute to wildlife recording schemes about their attitudes toward a variety of insect and bird species that have recently arrived in the UK. Participants in the survey were given examples of such species, including insects such as the mottled shieldbug or the red-eyed damselfly, and birds like the Eurasian spoonbill or the little bittern. 

While volunteers mostly welcomed new arrivals, they were less happy with species they were not familiar with, or with those that were found to harm native wildlife. Moreover, they expressed negative attitudes toward invasive species that were introduced in the UK by humans.

“We found that wildlife recorders viewed range-shifters more as vulnerable ‘ecological refugees’ than as threatening ‘climate opportunists,’” said study senior author Regan Early, a senior lecturer in Conservation Biology at the University of Exeter. “Respondents were strongly opposed to eradicating or controlling new range-shifters, but they also did not want to see conservationists trying to boost their numbers.”

“The complex questions of how and when to manage these arrivals are becoming increasingly urgent as more establish,” added study lead author James Cranston, a doctoral student in Environmental Studies at the same university. “Scientific evidence was a key factor in respondents’ decision-making on management, but many also spoke of the ‘wow’ factor that some of these species had for them.” 

The scientists hope that this study could be an opportunity to make more people aware of, and involved in, wildlife conservation.

“Public opinion – especially among volunteers engaged in conservation – will play an important role in how we treat species arriving in the UK,” concluded Dr. Early.

The study is published in the journal People and Nature.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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