Future conservation management practices should include the identification of refugia for plant and animal species that cannot cope with the effects of climate change, experts have said.
The University of Exeter and Natural England have been working on a project designed to work out which parts of the country could offer the specific environmental conditions necessary for wildlife to survive should species' usual habitats become inhospitable.
Climate change refugia for the flora and fauna of England - the resulting report - highlights how refugia became well-established and important features of the last Ice Age, allowing plants and animals to recolonise parts of the globe after the frost had melted.
Indeed, previous research from the University of Exeter discovered that the ancestry of most European species during the Pleistocene period can be traced back to havens in the Iberian, Italian or Balkan peninsulas.
Now, they want councils and wildlife trusts to pay careful attention to Britain's hills, valleys and mountains to see if they could make up essential refugia for birds and creatures that are being driven out by habitat loss due to changing environmental conditions.
"We are building up a picture of where species are most likely to be able to persist under climate change. This is a good example of how science can help us to target our conservation efforts to best effect," explained Natural England's Dr Mike Morecroft.
For example, species that cannot tolerate raised temperatures might favour areas including the cooler river valleys of Dartmoor and Exmoor - particularly the southernmost part of the national park in the case of the latter - while the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall could become essential for plants.
Natural England will now use the previous models of species persistence gathered from the last Ice Age together with this new study to inform its further work on conservation of the nation's wildlife.
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