Relocation! Relocation! Relocation! : A story of frogs in a stew.

Image: Zdeněk Macháček

Did you know that itchy feet in wildlife is a side effect of climate change? Animal movements aren’t what we imagine when hearing “climate change”. So, let’s talk about the lions soon to occupy our gardens, those that get left behind and how we can help them survive.

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Are we all really frogs!?

What if I told you that if you place a frog into boiling water, it will feel the heat and jump out? Who wouldn’t! But if the water starts cool and is heated gradually, the frog will fail to notice the bubbles and will, unfortunately, become stew.

Climate changes is a huge topic that scientists preach about but few of our average joes truly understand. How can we be expected to understand a huge problem and change our lifestyles to stop it if we aren’t told about what it really means? What can we do? Climate change is such a vast problem, how can any one of us make a difference, by turning off our lights or buying locally sourced food for example, if others aren’t helping. In this article, I will explain just one of the alterations climatic changes are having on the species of our planet and how we are all capable of helping out our furry, scaly and slimy compadres, completely on our own regardless of the actions of others.

Many of us nature lovers wish we could see lions, giraffes, elephants and the like in the wild but can’t afford the expenses of safaris. Have no fear, it may not be long until these animals are roaming in our back gardens. Surprised? Well, climate change does what it says on the tin, altering environmental conditions like temperature and the amount of rainfall areas receive at different times of the year.

Much of our wonderful wildlife is adapted specifically to the habitats they live in. Snow hares shed their thick white coats that warm and camouflage them in winter for thin brown coats in the summer. This is just one example of how animals have evolved to thrive in their environments. However, as climate change alters the environmental conditions of the world’s many habitats, the suitability of these habitats is changing. In response, some animals are unable to cope. To avoid starvation and exposure to killer conditions, they are packing up their lives and moving. Often this move is northward. Already 764 species have started moving northward at an average of 4 meters a year.

This is not a migration; these animals will not return home and soon may call upon our gardens for shelter.

There are many challenges for these pilgrims, now avoiding unknown dangerous predators and competing with new and strange counterparts for food and shelter. Although it may seem like an impossible journey, these are the lucky few. Many are failing to make the move. Their bags are packed and they are ready to go, but they are trapped. Fragmentation of a great many of the world’s habitats is preventing their movement. Those that cannot survive long without their specific food types or fear crossing open spaces are unable to leave dense forests for example or stray far from fruiting trees. So they stay still, stuck in a honey trap, a pan on the stove that is slowly heating up. Unfortunately, unless these species are given a path through our environments, they will be lost.

Image: Manuel Velasquez

But all is not lost! There is stills time and hope for them. We can all help to increase the connected nature of our little corner of the world. I call you to arms! Nature lovers and climate change sceptics alike. You can help your native and soon non-native wildlife on their pilgrimage.

Each garden or wild space can be made more hospitable for animals on the move. Those neighbouring woodlands and wildflower meadows are particularly vital to help connect urban and wild areas.

  1. Where possible replace garden fences with hedgerows. These can act as biological corridors that even the shyest of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians can use to cross between patches of habitat like your garden.
  2. Where fences are unavoidable hedgehog doors can allow the movement of, not just spiky guests, but all kinds of visitors to pass unhindered on their travels.
  3. You can help ecologists monitor and protect wildlife by recording the species that pass through your garden or that you see out on walks. This allows ecologists and zoologists to assess the movements of these species and how best to help them through conservation and policy efforts. You can share your recordings with NBN Atlas, a wildlife recording network.
  4. By letting a corner of your garden grow wild you may be providing food and shelter to passing hedgehogs or lizards.
  5. By building a small pond in your gardens you can provide a stepping stone between patches of vital water sources within urban areas. Water is important for all life on earth and is relied upon fiercely by many animals. If water sources are too few and far between many furry individuals may be forced to stay close to those they know at great cost.
  6. Give our mammals a feed! Hedgehogs and badgers love root veg and by leaving out your extras they are guaranteed to find a meal on their journeys through an otherwise concrete jungle.
Image: Hans-Olof Andersson

Climate change can feel like a heavy topic at times and it is easy to become lost in the scientific jargon. One thing that is clear is that animals are on the move and those that are not may need a hand on their travels. Regardless of our neighbour’s actions, each of us can help to improve the connected nature of the land we live in and make a difference.

No one enjoys being trapped so while lockdown prevents our movement, let’s get out in our gardens and lift the lockdown for some of our small neighbours.

Header image by Zdeněk Macháček.