The 2022 Heatwave – The Damage Is Done


For the first time ever, temperatures reached 40°C in the UK earlier this year. The recent episode of worldwide record temperatures and dry weather in July and August has had a huge impact on wildlife and the environment. Unfortunately, as global warming continues, this is becoming the new normal. Read on to see some of the eye-opening impacts captured by our photographers of the 2022 heatwave.

Nick Upton – Fire and Bombs

📍 Studland Heath, Dorset, UK

On Friday August 12th 2022, during the second round of 35°C plus weather, a major fire raged across 5 hectares of Studland Heath Nature Reserve, Dorset. The blaze was started by a barbecue at an illegal camp. It burnt for 3 days, only extinguishing when 90 firemen and a little rain tackled it. “I was sad to read the news reports,” says photographer Nick Upton. “This is a site I know well, packed with rare and special creatures.”

The heathland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is home to all six UK reptiles, including endangered Smooth snakes and Sand lizards. Rare Dartford warblers and a wonderful mix of scarce invertebrates, especially ground nesting bees, wasps and beetles also inhabit the heathland. Upton headed to the heathland on the 19th August, after the blaze had ceased, to document the aftermath.

The Aftermath

“The fire had sounded bad,”  says Upton. “There were reports of a local ferry evacuating tourists from the adjoining beach and trenches dug to create fire breaks. But what made it even more hazardous was when an unexploded WW2 bomb was found on the burnt heath, likely left over from major D-Day training exercises here. The burn area was taped off like a crime scene, with warning signs about the risks of unexploded ordnance.”

“I got right up to the edge of the burnt area and managed to photograph the blackened skeletal remains of Gorse bushes and charred Birch and pine trees. Two metal detectorists scanned the scene searching for further possible munitions under the soil. If I’d been able to go in, I might well have found the charred remains of snakes and lizards as many surely wouldn’t have escaped the fire.”

What Next?

“I have twice seen and reported illegal campsites and burning barbecues on tinder dry Studland heath in the last two summers. There were swiftly dealt with, but people sadly continue to ignore the many signs warning of fire risks. With vulnerable sites like this increasingly experiencing long periods of hot dry weather, the risk of fires will grow.”

“I hope to return in the coming months and years to show how the area bounces back. I expect it will green up quite swiftly and some new species may even appear for a while, but it will surely be decades before the heath’s full complement of wildlife fully establishes itself. Such riches are hard-won and easily lost.”

Chris O’Reilly – Exposed

📍 Ladybower reservoir, Peak District , UK

Ladybower reservoir in the Upper Derwent Valley of the Peak District was designed to provide water to Sheffield, Derby, Nottingham and Leicester. During the driest July on record since 1911, the operating water company requested a reduced usage across these cities. Motivated by these requests, photographer Chris O’Reilly was keen to explore the environmental impact of the drought on the reservoir.

What O’Reilly discovered was an unusual sight. The reservoir was at less than 55% capacity and a reservoir higher up the valley, known as Howden, was at 15% capacity. “What was unusual is that I could see the exposed remains of the villages Derwent and Ashopton and a rail-line sacrificed in the 1940s to make way for Ladybower,” explains O’Reilly. “This experience has had a sobering effect. It has motivated me to further document the very real effects of climate change on my ‘home patch’.”

Oriol Alamany – Drifting Away

📍 Svalbard Islands, Norway

Svalbard is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. In the summer of 2022, the record temperatures were about 5°C higher than average. The impacts of this warm weather are severe. July 2022 saw the highest recorded melt volume in Svalbard. Photographer Oriol Alamany aimed to capture the terrifying impacts of the heat.

“I have been travelling to Svalbard almost every summer for ten years,” says Alamany. “During my 5 week stay in the capital, Longyearbyen, temperatures reached 19° C, the average being 5-9°C. “People where sunbathing and wearing short sleeves. Although the weather may seem enjoyable now, melting permafrost and unstable mountain slopes begin to threaten homes.”

This year, ice retreated from the archipelago earlier than usual. The exposed ocean allowed warm southerly winds to reach land without first being chilled by the floating ice. “Usually, I find ice around 80° North along the northern shores of Svalbard,” explains Alamany. “However, in recent years I found ice at 81° N. This is very damaging to wildlife. Bearded and ringed seals have to live in cracked and melting pack ice and polar bears have difficulties to reach the ice so far from land.” Animals do not have time to adapt at the rate the environment is changing.

To see more images detailing the impact of this years high temperatures take a look at our 2022 Heatwave Gallery.