Traditional seasons help UK's flora and fauna to thrive

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The return of the traditional seasons, with cold winters, a late spring and a reasonably warm summer has proved to be a tonic for much of Britain’s wildlife, according to an analysis by experts at the National Trust.

After three previous years that saw prolonged wet weather during the summer and exceptionally mild winters, the flora and fauna of the British Isles have largely thrived, the Trust said.

“For the first time in a generation we have experienced a traditional year of weather and our wildlife has mostly responded favourably,” said Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s nature conservation advisor.

“A cold winter enabled wildlife to hibernate properly while a warm spring and early summer created ideal conditions for insects and led to bumper autumn berry crops in our orchards, woods and hedgerows,” Mr Oates said.

Insects, which provide food for many birds and small mammals, did particularly well, until many of them were hit by un-seasonale gales in mid July that killed over many of the smaller flying creatures.

Despite the setback, there have probably been more winners than losers this year, the trust said. Britain’s native endangered species, such as the heath fritillary butterfly on Exmoor, the netted carpet moth in Cumbria and puffins on the Farne Islands, have all enjoyed a good year, the trust said.

Despite the late onset of spring in 2010, plants and flowers thrived in a riot of colour. It was a good spring and early summer for many flowers, as dry weather meant they were not overgrown by vigorous grasses, it found.

Bluebells were, remarkably, still in flower at the end of May in woodlands as far south west as Devon, and autumn produced a fantastic colour display and was great for grassland fungi, Mr Oates said.

“However, after the coldest winter for over thirty years, contrasting summer months across the UK and this winter freeze looking set to break more records, the extremes of weather patterns within a single year continue to provide a challenge for our wildlife,” he said.

Month by month analysis by the National Trust



January

* A lot of displaced wildlife, due to the cold. A bittern was seen at Arlington Lake in North Devon, foraging far from home in search of ice free water and the icy conditions meant that most of the wildfowl that over winters at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire such as wigeon and teal disappeared in search of open water most likely to coastal areas or Western Europe.

* The coldest January since 1987 and Derwentwater in the Lake District froze for the first time in a decade.

* Gorse stopped flowering, which according to the traditional saying meant that humans had to stop courting.



February

* A survey of National Trust gardens revealed that the cold winter delayed the emergence of garden flowers but signalled a spectacular spring.

* Hard frosts in February meant many trees suffered from rabbits and hares eating bark as they were unable to graze beneath snow and ice.

* Bats and insects seem to have hibernated well, undisturbed by mild un-seasonal weather.

* Hungry birds ate two-thirds of hibernating Purple Emperor caterpillars.



March

* No daffodils ready for St David’s Day, due to the cold winter; the coldest for 30 years.

* Bumble bees and frogspawn were delayed, not appearing in many places until the third week.

* Skylarks started singing late, some three weeks late on the Bann estuary in Northern Ireland.

* Mountain hare in the Peak District, the only place that they are found in England, revelled in their natural wintry environment with their white coats after years without snow.

* Generally a sunny month, particularly across Wales, Northern Ireland and central England, with up to 150 per cent of normal sunshine levels being recorded, though the first half was cold leading to the surf freezing at Formby near Liverpool.



April

* An unusually large number of queen wasps around, perhaps because the colder winter led to successful hibernation. Also, low wasp populations in 2009 may have prompted queens/nests to produce more queens in response less competition and greater food supply.

* Blossom appeared in traditional orchards later than in recent years as the flowering of the trees was delayed by the snow and hard frosts.

* A good month weather wise which was most welcome for wildlife after the cold and late winter.

* The population of chough, which has been slowly recolonising Cornwall, suffered a set back this year with none of this year’s chicks surviving to adult hood; poor weather at a critical time of year is likely to have been a factor.



May

* It was the driest May across the UK since 1991. Sunshine totals were close to, or a little above, normal, though the first half was rather cold.

* On the Farne Islands in the north-sea the breeding season has been exceptionally early as most of the breeding seabirds were on eggs by mid-April (several species breaking their earliest ever egg laying dates).

* Bluebells were up to three weeks late but rallied to produce a wonderful carpet of colour.



June

* A good summer for the Glanville fritillary butterfly, which is virtually restricted to the south coast of the Isle of Wight, after several lean years. The good summer meant they had quite a long flight period allowing them to spread more widely.

* The large blue butterfly had its most successful year yet at Collard Hill, the Trust’s open access site in Somerset, and attracted a record 1200 visitors.

* Grass growth was suppressed by drought, lawns turned brown, and low-growing plants flourished, especially bird’s-foot trefoil and clovers. It was a good month for wild orchids.

* Mid-summer storms have become more common along the Northumberland coast and continue to hit the Little and Arctic Tern’s colonies.



July

* In mid July the weather changed, a good summer deteriorated into a cool and variable one, with frequent periods of rain and no prolonged periods of sunshine. There was a north-west/south-east split, with the latter having the best of the weather.

* The rains rescued the drought situation, though honeysuckle and dog’s mercury had already wilted in many woods.

* Purple Emperor, Purple Hairstreak and White-letter Hairstreak butterflies, which live in the tree tops and had emerged in good numbers, were blasted away by a gale around St Swithin’s Day.



August

* A poor month weatherwise; we are due a good August.

* Large numbers of cranes bred in the Norfolk Broads, making it the best breeding season so far for the recolonisation there.

* Good numbers of aphid-feeding hoverflies and ladybirds were recorded, especially in gardens. These were mostly immigrants spurred on by the fine early summer. But, it was a poor month for immigrant moth and butterflies such as the painted ladies.



September

* A changeable month with plenty of rain. Although temperatures overall were close to or above normal, there were significant variations with several warm days but also some cold nights and localised frost.

* A bumper crop of berries and hedgerow fruit, though blackberries, which had a long season, were largely spoilt by rain.

* First sighting for many years of juniper seedlings at Calstone Down and Pepperbox Hill in Wiltshire. These may have benefited from the lack of grass growth in spring and early summer.

* The annual emergence of the common autumn cranefly (Tipula paludosa), otherwise known as daddy long legs, largely failed again for the third year in a row. This is an important food for birds and bats.



October

* A dry month after a very wet start. Mid month frosts turned the leaves early, calm weather then ensured a great autumn colour show as the leaves stayed on the trees well.

* It was a good year for bats generally, who fed up well during the autumn.

* An abundance of the (largely passive) hornet, which has spread well in southern UK recently.

* Hazel catkins, which usually appear in March and April, appeared early in autumn at Washington Old Hall, Tyne and Wear, for the second year running.



November

* Autumn rainfall has enabled a very good year for grassland fungi with great displays on the south Devon coast and Tyntesfield near Bristol, where many rare types grow.

* Autumn colours were superb across the UK with an extended warm phase and limited wind, particularly stunning at Stourhead in Wiltshire and Hidcote Manor Garden in Gloucestershire.

* Mammals generally entered the winter in good condition, especially badgers, wild deer, and the wild sheep and goats in Cheddar Gorge.

* A mixed month for the north east with roses still flowering, six weeks later than normal, and daffodils emerging a good seven weeks early at Ormesby Hall, near Middlesbrough in the first half of the month. But 2.5 feet of snow fell at Cragside in Northumberland on 24 November and tree boughs broke under the weight.



December

* Coldest start to winter for 17 years with substantial snowfall across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, particularly affecting birds which need extra help with feeding in our gardens.

* Large flocks of chaffinch with some bramblings in woodland, abundant redwing and fieldfare in hawthorn hedges, and rare waxwings appearing in unusually high numbers.

* An abundance of holly berries suggest a possibly cold winter and there has been a bumper crop of mistletoe

* Hazel bushes are unusually well covered in baby catkins – something to look forward to in late winter.

* Birds are suffering because of the snow and freezing temperatures, especially ones that feed on insects, worms or even grazers such as wigeon. Large flocks of fieldfares and redwings along with blackbirds are in towns feeding on berries, waxwings too. Some birds will be moving to the coast or even south and west into France, Iberia or Ireland to escape the freeze. Waterbirds will be seeking out deeper waters or going to the coast in order to find open water.

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