Assessing the vulnerability of Welsh marine habitats
Climate change is recognised as one of the most significant environmental issues of our time. Global changes in climatic conditions will impact upon many aspects of everyday life presenting both risks and opportunities to the natural environment.
In 2010 the Countryside Council for Wales asked us to develop a method to assess the vulnerability of Welsh marine habitats to the impacts of climate change. This was the first time an assessment of this nature had been carried out for marine habitats or species in the UK. The method was based on work completed by HR Wallingford for the national climate change risk assessment (CCRA) and included an initial vulnerability scoring of the marine habitats present in Wales. Points were allocated for sensitivity to overall climate change impacts, the likelihood of the climate change impact occurring and the urgency with which any management plan for the habitat would need to be put in place. The full assessment methodology was subsequently applied to the top scoring habitats in order to obtain an overall vulnerability score.
Climate change parameter data were gathered from the UK Climate Projections 2009, which provides estimated values for various climate change parameters (e.g. sea surface temperature) up to the year 2080. The sensitivity of selected habitats to the different climate change parameters was then investigated through expert consultation and review of scientific reports. This allowed us to better understand the potential impact of individual climate change parameters on each habitat. In addition to the sensitivity and potential impact on each habitat, we also considered the ability to mitigate for the impacts of climate change e.g. by removal of sea walls to allow habitat to retreat landward as sea level rises, or the ability to create new habitat to replace any that might be damaged. An overall vulnerability score was derived from the sensitivity information and potential for mitigation for each habitat, these were then mapped to show the vulnerability of Welsh marine habitats to climate change.
This was the first time an assessment of this nature had been carried out for marine habitats or species in the UK.