Their colourfully exotic plumage may indeed be captivating, but increased sightings on British shores of birds from Africa and southern Europe is no cause for celebration, environmentalists have said.
They warn that the sighting of Rainbow-hued bee-eaters breeding on the Norfolk coast and rare black-winged stilts fledglings in Yorkshire, are an “unmissable sign” that the nature and emergency climate has reached Britain.
Birdwatchers are flocking to north-east Norfolk to catch a glimpse of the bee-eaters after seven were spotted close to Cromer by a local birder.
The birds, originally from hotter countries, have been seen constructing nest burrows in a small sand quarry near the coastal village of Trimingham, suggesting they may eventually breed there successfully.
Hostric data shows that bee-eaters did not breed in Britain between 1956 and 2001, but that this is now the sixth nesting attempt this century. Bee-eaters have been spotted nesting in County Durham in 2002, Herefordshire in 2002, the Isle of Wight in 2014, Cumbria in 2015 and Nottinghamshire in 2017, when nests in a quarry failed because of bad weather.
Mark Thomas of the RSPB, told The Telegraph: “There will be winners and losers with climate change and species like Bee-eaters will be among the winners, along with other southern wetland birds.
“It’s brilliant watching them, but it’s tained by the fact of what this means for the bigger picture. Native species, such as the Dotterell, will find their habitat has changed and will either move further north or their population will decline.”
The starling-sized bee-eaters have red backs, blue bellies and yellow throats, and can be seen feeding on bees, dragonflies and other flying insects which they catch in mid-air.
He warned: “While an incredible sight, we mustn’t forget that the arrival of these birds to our shores is due to changes to our climate and subsequent pressures on wildlife both here and across the globe.
“Pushed northwards by climate change, these exotic birds will probably become established summer visitors in the future, having been an early and unmissable sign in the past two decades that the nature and climate emergency has reached our shores.”
Potteric Carr nature reserve in Doncaster, has seen another rare arrival in northern climes. Three are reported to have fledged this week from what is believed to be the most northerly nest in Britain, The species is rare in this country and does not breed here every year.
But Danny Heptinstall, director of policy and partnerships at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, warned that large-scale nature-rich places need to be protected and restored to ensure that species forced north by climate change and rising temperatures can find refuge in Britain.
He said: “The only reason we’ve got black-winged stilts breeding at Potteric Carr is because we have a fantastic landscape-scale nature reserve of a couple of hundred hectares with ambitions to extend it further. If we don’t create the habitat for these species in the UK they will have nowhere to go.
“It’s positive, exciting and a brilliant endorsement of the work we’ve been doing at Potteric Carr but it’s also an alarm call.”
Mr Heptinstall warned, however, that the other side of the coin was the loss of native species moving further north as temperatures rise.
“The flip-side is what we are losing at the same time. In Yorkshire we’re looking anxiously at our seabird populations, including kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins,” he said.
As sea temperatures rise, fish stocks move north or disappear, reducing the breeding success of seabirds farther south and compelling species to shift to where they can find food.
Of the UK’s 25 breeding seabird species, 24 are assigned red or amber status on the birds of conservation concern list, meaning they are at risk of local extinction