MONARCH - Modelling natural resource response to climate change

Background and Goals

The project analyses the effects of climate change on conservation in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This is done by using an integrated methodology that describes the response of the most important biodiversity components to anthropogenic climate change. In the 1st phase, the climate effects on conservation resources are analysed. The subsequent 2nd phase develops general methods for recording species distribution in conjunction with land use and propagation capacity. The consequences of change for the functioning of ecosystems is studied and the methods are tested in case study areas. The 3rd phase involves modelling the potentially suitable future propagation areas for 120 species, with 32 rare or endangered species analysed in detail, as listed in the "UK Biodiversity Action Plan".

The objective of the project is to link existing distribution models for species with bioclimatic models, in order to create a framework for studying the responses of biodiversity to climate change. This includes species propagation and distribution and changes in land use, so that changes in the propagation of species under climate change can be simulated. The study does not include where the propagation area for individual species is extended or reduced, only whether the future climate is likely to be more or less favourable for them.

Content time


Research area/region

  • Great Britain
  • Ireland

Steps in the process of adaptation to climate change

Step 1: Understand and describe climate change

Approach and results 

The climate scenarios from the "UK Climate Impacts Programme" (UKCIP) are used, with one high and one low emission scenario and a scale of 50 x 50 km.

temperature increase between 2 and 3.5°C by 2080 (South East England up to 5°C)

Parameter (climate signals)
  • Altered rainfall patterns
  • Higher average temperatures
Further Parameters 

more frequent extreme events

Further times 

2020, 2050, 2080

Step 2a: Identify and assess risks - climate effects and impact

Approach and results 

The effects on a variety of species protected by the "UK Biodiversity Action Plan" are studied. These effects result from warmer summers, longer plant growth periods, wetter winters and more frequent extreme weather events, such as persistent drought and more severe storms. These affect the distribution, preferred habitats and behaviour of the species. Many species are already demonstrating a Northwards expansion or a contraction in their distribution in the United Kingdom as a result of warming.

The species analysed in the project can be divided into four categories, based on the simulated changes to their potentially suitable climate spaces:

  1. Winners: Species for which a significant gain in potentially suitable climate space is likely and for which there is no significant loss. These species have a distribution in the South of the United Kingdom and Ireland and currently live at the Northern limit of their distribution area.
  2. Losers: Species for which a significant loss of potentially suitable climate space is likely and for which there is no significant gain.
  3. No change: Species for which there is neither a gain nor a loss of climate space. These include only a few species whose current climate space encompasses almost the whole of the United Kingdom and Ireland and that are also widely distributed in continental Europe.
  4. Shift: Species for which a shift in their potentially suitable climate space is possible. These species all demonstrate a Northwards shift in their future suitable climate space, with the extent of the loss of their Southern distribution area depending on the emission scenarios analysed and, in some cases, greater than the gain.

Step 2b: Identify and assess risks - Vulnerability, risks and chances

Urgency and priorization of adaptation needs 

The projections for potential future species distribution reinforce the urgency of management intervention. While the projected changes for species up to 2020 are still relatively minor, substantial changes are possible by 2050. Successful adaptation measures for conservation need several decades to be effective and therefore need to be developed in good time.

Step 3: Develop and compare measures

Measures and/or strategies 

The aim is to illustrate the necessity of developing adaptation measures to manage the inevitable effects of climate change on biodiversity. The future suitable climate space models cannot describe the measures that need to be taken at species level as they only describe trends. Adaptation in conservation should be flexible enough to function under different climatic conditions.

The results show that for more than 90% of the species studied, based on the climate scenarios and timescales studied, substantial changes in their suitable climate space could occur. This clearly highlights the need for adaptation measures to safeguard their distribution possibilities and thus to establish themselves at new locations due to climate change.

Time horizon
  • 2011–2040 (near future)
  • 2036–2065
  • 2071–2100 (far future)


Funding / Financing 
  • English Nature, Countryside Council for Wales,
  • Environment Agency, Environment and Heritage Service (Northern Ireland),
  • Duchas The Heritage Service (Republic of Ireland),
  • National Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
  • Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Executive, Woodland Trust,
  • Forestry Commission,
  • The Welsh Assembly,
  • Defra
Project management 

Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment (Great Britain)


ADAS, British Trust for Ornithology, CABI Bioscience


Environmental Change Institute,
Oxford University Centre for the Environment
South Parks Road
UK-OX1 3QY Oxford

Printer-friendly version
Fields of action:
 biological diversity