The sensitivity of habitats to climate change underpins our understanding of likely vulnerability under current and future climate change. This report presents the results of an expert-led consensus (Delphi) approach to develop a sensitivity matrix of UK habitats to climate change.
The assessment highlights clear differences in the sensitivity of the habitats investigated. Managed agricultural habitats, grasslands and habitats characterised by being of a dry nature tended to be identified as having lower sensitivity. Habitats dependent on or defined by surface water availability, of a coastal nature, montane or with a northern distribution tended to be ascribed as having higher sensitivity.
Interventions should support habitats with the highest sensitivity as this is likely to translate to higher risk. Montane, freshwater and wetland habitat and coastal habitat degraded by factors such as coastal squeeze for this reason should be a priority, although the type of response will differ.
Large differences in the sensitivity of habitats in good compared to degraded condition were recorded where the degradation exacerbated climate impacts. For example, compromised hydrology in wetlands and coastal squeeze affecting coastal habitats. To reduce the vulnerability of these habitats to climate change, intervention should focus on the causes of degradation that leads to increased climate sensitivity rather than a broad approach to addressing poor condition.
A review of what attributes of habitats and ecosystems are important during the process of climate driven change will be required to help determine appropriate interventions and evaluate their effectiveness.