The United Kingdom, with its extensive coastline, low-lying land and internationally important waterbird populations, is likely to be much affected by climate change generally and by rising sea-levels in particular. Already climate change has been linked with earlier breeding (Crick & Sparks 1999) and changing breeding distributions of the UK's birds (Thomas & Lennon 1999). The distributions of some of the UK's internationally important overwintering populations of waterbirds are also changing as a result of warmer winters (Austin et al. 2000, Austin & Rehfisch, in press). If the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions regarding climate change are correct, coastal birds throughout the world are likely to be considerably affected; this concern led to the 2002 British Ornithologists’ Union Annual Conference on ‘Coastal Birds and Climate Change’ held in Hull, UK.

The Conference was based around a series of themes that included the history of climate change and sea-level rise, the socio-economic factors that may mitigate climate change, predicted changes in coastal geomorphology and in the plant and invertebrate resources that coastal birds depend on, the observed and predicted effects of climate change on birds, and the possible mitigation of any adverse effects within present legal frameworks. Within their areas of particular expertise, the invited speakers reviewed the factors that are likely to change with climate change and how these factors would affect coastal birds. Bringing such information together should help make it possible to develop scenarios of the likely effect of climate change on birds, even though there remain many uncertainties. The research priorities identified as a result of the Conference include work into trying to lessen these uncertainties.

The Conference Proceedings are timely in the context of the increasing importance of climate change on the ecological, conservation and political agendas (Parmesan & Yohe 2003, Root et al. 2003, King 2004). Recent reports have made them particularly relevant. Since the initial idea for the Conference, it has been shown that most of the internationally important species of wader that overwinter along the coasts of Britain are in recent decline (Rehfisch et al. 2003) and that worldwide 48% of wader species with known trends are declining (IWSG 2003). Although localized changes in habitat quality and quantity, together with increases in disturbance, may be related to these declines, there is also evidence from Britain that climate change may be a contributory factor (Austin & Rehfisch, in press).


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  2. Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Steve Dudley, Gwen Bonham, Iain Bishop and Hull University staff for helping to ensure that the Conference ran smoothly, Tim Appleton, Fred Cooke, Rob Fuller, Jeremy Greenwood and Mike Pienkowski for ably chairing the sessions, and the authors and reviewers of the papers that make up these Proceedings. The Estuarine and Coastal Sciences Association and the Marine Biological Association of the UK helped sponsor the Conference. Finally, very special thanks to Northumbrian Water Limited for funding the production of these Proceedings, and to Andy Gosler for taking the papers through the final editing stages. Thank you to Simon Gillings for supplying the title page artwork.


  1. Top of page
  2. Acknowledgments
  • Austin, G.E., Peachel, I. & Rehfisch, M.M. 2000. Regional trends in coastal wintering waders in Britain. Bird Study 47: 352371.
  • Austin, G. & Rehfisch, M.M. 2004. Shifting non-breeding distributions of migratory fauna in relation to climatic change. Global Change Biology in press.
  • Crick, H.Q.P. & Sparks, T.H. 1999. Climate related to egg-laying trends. Nature 399: 423424.
  • IWSG (International Wader Study Group). 2003. Waders are declining worldwide: conclusions from the 2003 International Wader Study Group Conference, Cádiz, Spain.
  • King, D. 2004. Climate change science: adapt, mitigate, or ignore? Science 303: 176177.
  • Parmesan, C. & Yohe, G. 2003. A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421: 3742.
  • Rehfisch, M.M., Austin, G.E., Armitage, M.J.S., Atkinson, P.W., Holloway, S.J., Musgrove, A.J. & Pollitt, M.S. 2003. Numbers of wintering waterbirds in Great Britain and the Isle of Man (1994/95–1998/99). II. Coastal waders (Charadrii). Biol. Conserv. 112: 329341.
  • Root, T.L., Price, J.T., Hall, K.R., Schneider, S.H., Rosenzweig, C. & Pounds, J.A. 2003. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421: 5760.
  • Thomas, C.D. & Lennon, J.L. 1999. Birds extend their ranges northwards. Nature 399: 213 .