Shropshire Star

The heat is on – a small change affecting us all

Images of emaciated polar bears scavenging in towns for food have become the norm when talking about climate change.


But heartbreaking as they may be, they do little to bring home what it all means in the West Midlands.

"The polar bear is a bit of a nuisance when you're thinking about the West Midlands," says wildlife specialist John Hughes.

"If polar bears went extinct next year it really wouldn't change very much else as they are high in the food chain, so a few less seals would be eaten.

"It's stuff we consider insignificant at the bottom, that's what drives everything else, and that's tremendously important to other wildlife."

In the midst of the furious talk about a changing climate, it can be difficult to understand what tangible impact a two or three degree global increase in temperatures would mean when you're ambling through a park in Shifnal.

Even Jeremy Clarkson, king of the petrolheads, acknowledged this week that climate change is transforming our world – but even that was after seeing events taking place in another country.

But a trundle through the countryside on a summer day, says John, actually might indicate what's already occurring on our doorstep.

"Everybody has noticed that when you go for a drive in the summer, the splatter of insects on your windscreen isn't there," adds John, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "That's clearly indicating a decline in numbers.


"It doesn't just mean that there aren't so many wasps. Insects are very low down the food chain, and provide food for many other things that we may typically care a bit more about. That's the trouble.

"It's not god thinking we just want the things we think are nice, as they are totally reliant on this entire web of life that sits underneath them."

The change is also changing the type of creatures that we might find in our fields and gardens, as species move further north with the changing climate – which brings its own troubles.

"We have seen it with the harlequin ladybird," John adds. "They have become really prevalent.

"They are eating greenfly, just like the other ladybirds, but when those run out they are starting to eat native ladybirds."

These are not issues that are confined to the countryside. Urban areas will similarly experience a whole new set of challenges in the event of the global temperatures taking a spike of even one or two degrees.

Hamid Pouran, a lecturer in environmental technology at the University of Wolverhampton, says that while predicting the impact can be imprecise, there are likely to be impacts on lifestyles in the West Midlands.

"If you go back to July, we had a heatwave in the UK for a few days," he says. "Trains were being cancelled because the heat caused tracks to buckle, and the Underground in London was stopped.

"Our urban environment is based on the existing conditions, and if the temperature goes up then the amount of energy needed to keep people comfortable needs to increase.


"Also, homes in the Midlands are generally not energy efficient. We need more energy for our homes if we assume that summers are hotter and winters are milder, but we will also have more extremes.

"We will have frequent heatwaves of 37 or 38 degrees every two to three years, and that puts a lot of pressure on energy demand. The current system of supply has not predicted that demand."

Another impact of the slowly increasing temperatures around the would could also be that they increase food prices, says Dr Simon Jeffery, a soil microbial ecologist at Harper Adams University near Newport.

"The projections suggest droughts are going to increase," he warns. "And wet autumns like the one we are currently experiencing make it very difficult to farm, and reduced yields will lead to increased prices that will be observed on the shelves.

"On top of that it's going to increase the prevalence of certain diseases that previously couldn't establish in the UK.

"Xylella, for example, is massacring the olive population in the Mediterranean, but it's actually a plant disease that will affect many species including oak trees and grape vines."

He adds: "Some of the other changes we might experience will be people growing different crops here. The UK wine industry is bigger now than it was 20 years ago, for example, and we will start to see changes in the crops that are available."

In truth, images of polar bears are a harrowing reminder of the impact a warming planet will have on some of its most remarkable inhabitants. But in the towns and fields of the West Midlands, their loss would barely be noticed.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about how clean our windscreens are becoming.