UK wildlife endures roller-coaster year of extreme weather

'Perhaps we could do with a 'proper winter' this year'

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The Independent Online

Wildlife is in store for a bumpy ride in the coming years, one of the country’s leading naturalists warns today, as a double-whammy of extreme weather and accelerating habitat loss straps nature into a roller-coaster ride.

Experts say Britain has experienced one of the warmest, if not the warmest, year on record in 2014, while last winter’s rainfall in England and Wales was the heaviest since 1766.

“The greatest challenge for wildlife this year, and perhaps a sign of things to come, was the extreme weather,” said Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Nature and wildlife specialist. “This, combined with the loss of habitat, means that nature is in for a bumpy ride in the years ahead, as shown by the roller coaster that many species endured in 2014.

“This was a remarkable year for much of our wildlife, with many extreme highs and lows. Some species fared exceptionally well, others very poorly, with many faring differently from region to region.”

The exceptionally wet and mild winter gave way to an early and rapid spring, which was hit by heavy rainfall towards the end. This was followed by sunny months early in the summer, brought to an end by a cool, wet and windy August. An unusually dry September followed, giving way to an autumn that was so wet and mild it led to a second spring.

 

“After such a helter-skelter year, we wonder what lies ahead and what the winter will bring. Last winter was too wet, too windy and even too mild. Perhaps we could do with a ‘proper winter’, leading to a slow but sure spring.

“Whatever happens in the three months ahead, we and our wildlife will have to cope. We remain worried about the long-term trends, which show enormous pressure on species and habitats,” Mr Oates said.

The UK's wildlife winners and losers

Winners

Slugs: they thrive in warm, damp conditions and had a great winter.

Mediterranean birds: with spring coming early, a number of birds associated with the Med made rare appearances over the summer, including glossy ibises and bee-eaters.

Biting insects: the warm summer across Europe drove an influx of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, hoverflies and ladybirds to the UK. This is because the increased competition for food in warmer parts of the continent forced the insects to disperse in search of new supplies, while the rising temperatures made areas in the UK hospitable that would normally be too cold.

Losers

Trees: thousands of trees around the country were damaged and uprooted as gales buffeted the UK last winter.

Seals: some 35 seals have been found dead on the beaches of Cornwall in the past two months, almost twice the normal rate. Although the bad weather is thought to have played a part, the extent of the death-toll remains a mystery.

Fungi: had a bad year on account of the dry September and the slugs, who were out in force as a result of October’s rain.

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