Buzzing again: Why 2009 was a good year for wasps - and the rest of Britain's wildlife

A A A

It began with an Arctic blast, suffered the heaviest 24-hour period of rain on record, and ended with another icy bombardment sweeping down from the North. Yet 2009 was surprisingly kind to much of Britain's wildlife given that the two previous wet summers had decimated many species of birds and butterflies.

Wildlife experts at the National Trust said that a combination of a biting January and February – the coldest winter for 20 years – and a reasonably warm and dry early summer saved many of the warmth-loving insects that had suffered badly in the rainy summers of 2007 and 2008. Wasps and flies prospered, and there was even an unusual sighting of a humpback whale.

"After two wash-out summers we've in many ways had more traditional weather year, with an old-fashioned cold winter and some hot and dry periods during the spring and summer," said Matthew Oates, nature conservation adviser at the National Trust. "For many insects, and insect-feeding birds and mammals, this year has been a saviour as they were being severely tested.

"A lot of wildlife started 2009 really on its knees, and would have been in serious trouble if we'd had another year like the previous two. We would have seen some local extinctions at the parish or district level."

The harsh winter was followed by a reasonably warm, dry spring, but then suffered a setback with a cold, wet May. After picking up again in June, temperatures fell again in July, unseasonably wet for the third year running.

Mr Oates said: "Because we had those reasonably good spells at the end of May and beginning of June, a good end of June and beginning of July, it did a lot of good. So it's picked itself up, 2009 has stopped the rot."

He added: "A lot of wildlife populations recovered, but we are overdue a good July, and long overdue a good May. In August it depended on where you where. In the east it was really quite dry but in the west it wasn't. Then everybody had a good, dry September and October. What we hadn't expected was a snowy, rather old-fashioned winter, because we hadn't really had one since 1986 or 1987.

"It was good for things that need to hibernate properly, like some caterpillars. When they wake up too early there's nothing for them to eat. They hibernated properly last winter."

This may be one of the main reasons why the purple emperor butterfly did so well this year. Butterflies in general did better than previous years because they finally had a reasonably long period of dry, warm weather in early summer to feed and mate.

The cold February frosts helped check the highly invasive hottentot fig, a weed that is spreading on the sea cliffs of south-west England. But it was not so good for choughs, an endangered member of the crow family mainly found in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, because the ground was often too hard for them to feed.

Winners and losers: How wildlife coped in 2009

January

*Frogs on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall suffered in the Arctic weather but the cold snap helped knock back many unwelcome invasive, non-native plants such as hottentot fig. In Cornwall and Pembrokeshire, choughs, a relative of the crow, also suffered because the frozen ground made feeding difficult.

*The second half of the month was very mild with bumblebees appearing.

February

*Coldest winter for 20 years in some parts of the UK, in two spells, with heavy snow and extreme frosts. Countless trees were lost to snow damage in north Somerset and Dartford warblers suffered in the south-east of England.

*Yet the first swallows appeared a month early on Holy Island in Northumberland. Swallow numbers overall were down on previous years.

March

*After the cold winter and two wet summers there were noticeably fewer ticks in much of the countryside: good news for walkers, dog owners and farmers. Ticks can carry Lyme disease, which can cause severe symptoms in humans if untreated.

*A dry month, with birds nesting earlier than usual, such as blackbirds at Cragside in Northumberland.

April

*Exceptionally dry weather resulted in several moorland fires at Hardcastle Crags and Marsden Moor in Yorkshire.

*It was a difficult year for oak trees. A myriad of caterpillars of the Green Oak Roller moth defoliated many trees, especially in the south-east, then Oak Mildew, a leaf fungus, affected the re-growth in late summer.

May

*Swarms of green and whitefly in Northern Ireland arrived on warm southerlies late in the month, unusually early in the summer.

*The tree bumblebee ( Bombus hypnorum) was a common sight at Runnymede in Surrey. This distinctive species was first recorded in the UK in 2001 and seems to be spreading especially in the east.

*Massive migration of painted lady butterflies into the UK.

June

*It was difficult year for cuckoos even in their hotspot areas.

*Glow worms suffered at Arnside Knott in Lancashire because of a wet late June and early July.

*Mid-summer storms decimated the Arctic tern population at Beadnall Bay in Northumberland. Storms normally seen in the spring and autumn have become more common in the summer with serious impacts.

July

*A fantastic year for the purple emperor butterfly, the best since 1983 for some sites.

*Thousands of seven-spot ladybirds ( Adalia septempunctata) were seen in the arable fields at Wimpole in Cambridgeshire with large swarms in East Anglia and Somerset.

August

*Wasp numbers were back up, thanks to a fine spring and mild summer.

*Leaves began to fall by the end of August at Ham House in London, thanks to a dry summer in the south-east.

*A second generation of Duke of Burgundy butterflies in Gloucestershire rewrote the record books. It was only the third time this has happened in the last 100 years, and all since 2005.

*Bats had a better year, having suffered in the previous two wet summers.

September

*A humpback whale was spotted, a very rare sighting, near to the Farne Islands in Northumberland.

*Another poor year for the common autumn cranefly (Tipula paludosa), otherwise known as daddy-long-legs: the second in a row after the 2008 crash. This has a knock-on effect for bats as it's an important food source ahead of the winter months.

*A bumper year for blackberries in the south-west of England, though relatively poor elsewhere.

October

*Hatfield forest in Essex saw few fungi as it was too dry for them to fruit; by contrast, record numbers of waxcaps were seen a month late at Cragside in Northumberland.

*Lack of rain in the East of England meant Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast ran dry, affecting migration stopovers for wading birds.

*Apple trees and strawberry plants flowered again in October in Northern Ireland; overall a good year for pear trees and a mixed year for apples.

November

*A wet month with flooding in Cumbria and monsoon conditions on the Yorkshire moors. Temperatures began to drop at the end of the month.

*Wardens on the Farne Islands took 16 days to get back to the mainland because of the stormy seas, which drove seabirds such as storm petrels and Leach's petrels ashore along the south coast of England.

December

*The warm April ensured that it was a good year for mistletoe and holly with an abundance of berries.

*The first frost at Hadrian's Wall was on 1 December, five weeks later than normal. Snow and ice gripped the country at the end of the year, just as it did at the beginning.

Source: The National Trust

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy