Natural England's Character Area Climate Change project aims to identify the local responses required to safeguard our natural environment and our enjoyment of it.
We looked at four specific Character Areas in England, including Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase, that represent contrasting habitats and landscapes that are likely to be affected by climate change.
By the year 2080, the climate of the Dorset Downs and Cranborne Chase might resemble that of present day Portugal. One of our Character Area projects sought to understand which natural assets would be at risk from incremental climate change and extreme weather events, and bring a range of partners together to agree how land use and management would need to alter to secure those natural assets in the future.
80% of the water drunk in Dorchester, Blandford and Salisbury comes from the surrounding chalk landscape but there is less water per person now than in some Mediterranean countries! Water flows in the River Stour in late summer could be down by 50% in 2080 and the chalk stream network will shrink, with the loss of species such as the Atlantic stream crayfish. One of the solutions would be to create or restore ponds and woodlands along streams. The woods could then supply fuel, reduce air and water temperatures, and provide shade for humans and animals, while ponds could gravity irrigate new crops such as walnuts and olives.
A 30% increase in autumn rainfall in the last 40 years has already been recorded in the South West. An increase in erosion of thin chalk soils can be expected from rainstorms. This would result in damage to historic monuments, such as Hambledon Hill, and wildlife, as more silt and phosphate wash into rivers. One of the solutions would be to re-establish chalk grassland, native woodland or hedges on steep slopes. Planting locally native but drought tolerant trees such as oak, hornbeam and small-leaved lime is recommended.
In the final phase of the project, we produced a film with financial assistance from the Environment Agency and Dorset County Council. Our aim was to generate a sense of urgency that some of the predicted changes in weather are already being realised. We also wanted to paint a picture of a positive future, by highlighting some of the practical land use/management solutions that will make for a high quality, resilient environment for wildlife and people. The film is 13 minutes long, but a short promotional version can be viewed below.