UK Climate Change Risk Assessment 2017 – a view from the National Trust

Our Head of Nature Conservation, David Bullock, reflects on this week’s report from the Committee on Climate Change and its implications for the National Trust’s work.


Defra’s 25 year Plans for Nature and Food and Farming might be frozen post the Brexit vote, but the planet keeps warming.  This, the second report by the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change (as required every five years under the 2008 Climate Change Act) was written by over 80 authors and incorporated 6000 reviewer’s comments.  Its thousands of pages will make for uncomfortable bedtime reading.

Even if the Paris Agreement pledges hold us to no more than 2.7 degrees, the climate change tanker will take decades to stop.  Professor Bob Watson’s advice around the time of the first report in 2012 of “aim for 2 degrees, prepare for 4” is still (unfortunately) good.  In analytical detail, the report assesses over 60 risk/opportunities in terms of magnitude, current management, and the benefits of further action to reduce risk within the next five years. These were boiled down to six priority areas.

Cows cooling in the water of Broomlee Lough, Northumberland during the drought of July 2006. ©National Trust Images/Simon Fraser

Cows cooling in the water of Broomlee Lough, Northumberland during the drought of July 2006. ©National Trust Images/Simon Fraser

Top priorities are: flooding and coastal change, and overheating especially in urban areas – for both of these there was high confidence that the magnitude of the risk is high and, as a result, more action is needed now.  For water shortages, risks to natural capital and impact on food production and trade the magnitude of the current risks is low to medium but increases to high and more action is needed.  We need more research to better assess the sixth priority area, the impacts of new and emerging pests, diseases and other non-native invasive species.

Good to hear Mary Creagh, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, in her opening remarks linking the need to take soil seriously with climate change impacts on natural capital and food.  This reflects her Committee’s recent and very good report on soils, which we contributed to (see previous blog by our Consultancy Manager, Sue Cornwell).  Lord Krebs, noting that with 1 in 5 road bridges in England at risk of damage by flooding and 4,500 homes still being built in high flood risk areas each year, there was a dearth of resources and long term strategic plans.  With the report clearly indicating that the impacts of flooding and coastal change in the UK, already significant, are expected to increase as a result of climate change, Oliver Letwin’s report on flood risk management is eagerly awaited.

Aerial view of Bassenthwaite Lake during flooding of Borrowdale Valley, Cumbria.

Aerial view of Bassenthwaite Lake during flooding of Borrowdale Valley, Cumbria. ©National Trust Images/John Malley

In these events and reports there must be “heat maps”.  The water deficit/surplus for the UK under a high emission scenario taking us to 3.5 degrees was scary.  Of course south-east England and East Anglia are, or will be, in deficit, and in the east of England most of the better soils (Grades 1-3) will soon be lost through erosion/oxidation, but what surprised us all was the projected shortage of water for people in Wales and the Lake District.  On the plus side, longer growing seasons, higher temperatures, and more carbon dioxide means that we could grow more food on the same amount of land, provided we have enough water for the crops and do not knacker the soil.

Much to do, and worthwhile the National Trust continuing its detailed look at flooding but also the accessibility of its places to people who may be about to suffer the worst excesses of heat island effects in cities.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation, National Trust.

You can find out more about Our Views on our website:

Read more about how climate change is impacting National Trust places in our Forecast Changeable report.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s