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
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star