Birds come down to earth in the year of the slug

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A record wet April was followed by the wettest summer since 1912, creating soggy conditions ideal for molluscs

A A A

Some British birds and butterflies had disastrous breeding seasons in the sodden weather of 2012, it is now clear, while other wildlife also struggled in the wettest summer for a century.

Breeding productivity tumbled in birds such as the chaffinch, and butterflies such as the common blue, as nests were washed out and insects were unable to fly to find mates and lay their eggs.

"Virtually everything was hit," said Paul Stancliffe of the British Trust for Ornithology, while Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation said that, for butterflies and moths, "it was an awful year".

In fact, the wildlife year began promisingly with one of the warmest and driest Marches on record, which meant that early-breeding birds, residents such as the long-tailed tit, did comparatively well. It came at the end of a second successive dry winter, amid fears of a major drought.

But no sooner had water restrictions been imposed in southern England in early April than the heavens opened and a record wet April followed, which was followed in turn by a record wet June, and then the wettest summer as a whole since 1912. The big winner amid the soggy conditions were slugs – including the giant Spanish super slug which was reported to be invading gardens.

But the rain meant the number of fledglings birds could produce dropped alarmingly in many cases: chaffinch chicks were nearly 60 per cent down on their average, according to the BTO, with reed warbler productivity more than 35 per cent down, and large drops in other warbler species such as blackcap, whitethroat and chiffchaff.

Among butterflies, common blues had a disastrous breeding season, and there were poor performances from the holly blue and the whites. But many plants, such as wild orchids, did well.

"In general, plants and slugs were the big winners and insects the losers," said Matthew Oates, resident naturalist at the National Trust. "This has been a highly polarised year, with wildlife in the places we look after doing either remarkably well or incredibly badly." Orchids had a fantastic year almost everywhere.

But, according to the Trust, the April downpours had a detrimental impact on fruit harvests in the autumn as the spring rains washed away the blossom, resulting in a very bad year for English apples, and fruits and berries such as sloes and holly berries.

It was a also a bad summer for the insect pollinators: bees and hoverflies suffered setbacks, although the good news for picnickers this year was that there were very few wasps. In its end-of-year assessment, the Trust says: "Mammals have had a mixed year, with bats having an especially difficult time. Water mammals have also suffered greatly, with water vole holes being washed away in the floods. Animal sanctuaries are now inundated with underfed hedgehogs, and dormice also had a poor breeding season."

Flora and fauna: 2012's ups and downs

January Earliest recorded flowering magnolia appears in Lanhydrock, Cornwall, on New Year's Day; snowdrops and crocuses also flower earlier than normal in the mild winter weather.

February Survey of 50 National Trust gardens on Valentine's Day finds a 19 per cent increase in flowers in bloom compared to 2011; rooks begin building nests earlier than typical.

March Drought orders put in place across swathes of England after a second successive dry March; supposedly extinct large tortoiseshell butterflies, right, seen on the Isle of Wight, but the unseasonally warm weather hits badgers, as they struggle to find food in dry soil.

April Snow and the wettest April ever recorded fail to shift widespread hosepipe bans; heavy rains means kingfisher holes and water-vole burrows are drowned by floods; a short bluebell season adds a splash of colour.

May Continued wet weather leads to the widespread failure of spring fruit blossom; cuckoos fail to breed at Wicken Fen for the first time; insect populations partially recover towards the end of the month; a very rare cream-coloured courser is spotted in Herefordshire – the twitch of the year

June Orchids flourish with spectacular displays at Blakeney on the Norfolk coast and Stackpole Warren in Pembrokeshire, and hundreds of fly orchids on Dunstable Downs; large blue butterflies emerge in good numbers, laying a record number of eggs at the National Trust's Collard Hill in Somerset; breeding success for sandwich terns and little terns at Blakeney Point.

July Over 150 per cent of normal rainfall – the arrival of Spanish super-killer slugs makes the headlines; a good year too for dragonflies, with 22 species recorded at Scotney Castle, Kent.

August A terrible summer for bee-keepers with bees at the National Trust's Attingham Park, West Midlands, having to be fed; wasp numbers are also very low and swifts depart after a very poor breeding season.

September Improving weather fails to boost apple crops, with a 90 per cent drop in Dorset affecting cider production; signs of a second-spring effect with the bogbean flowering at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales (which normally flowers in April).

October Massive landfall of thrushes from Scandinavia at Blakeney Point, Orford Ness and Farne Isles on the east coast; pheasant feeder bins emptying much faster than usual, due to unusually hungry birds, mice and other mammals

November More floods strike the South-west and then the north of England; there is a reasonably good show of waxcap fungi in Lake District and Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion; seal pups break the 1,000-barrier at Farne Isles and Blakeney Point

December Consequences of a wet spring are felt with low numbers of holly berries; there is an invasion of the normally rare migrant bird, the waxwing.

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
News
James Argent from Towie is missing, police say
newsTV star had been reported missing
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, Finance, MSc, PhD)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Financial Technical Consultant (C++, C#, F...

Year 3 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Teacher Required We are curr...

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone