Environment: Wildlife becomes latest casualty of the shift in weather patterns

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The warmest November day in more than a century was followed yesterday by torrential downpours, prompting flood warnings across the South-west of England. Louise Jury looks at the impact of the latest blip on the weather front.

The Environment Agency issued flood alerts on 16 stretches of river in Somerset, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall yesterday as the skies opened. About 60mm of rain fell in the far west of England in 24 hours.

The sudden downpours came after the Scottish Highlands recorded the highest temperature anywhere in the British Isles for the second half of November since 1895.

The temperature in Aultbea in the Wester Ross region of the Highlands reached 18.8C (65.8F) on Monday, beating the previous record of 18.7C (65.6F) set in Croydon, south London, earlier the same day.

Eddie Graham, of PA WeatherCentre, said: "This is a pretty impressive record to break." And in those parts of the country unaffected by rain, the strangely mild weather could continue for some days. It has been caused by warm air sweeping across the Atlantic from warmer places like the Azores and Bermuda.

The normal temperature for this time of year ranges from 7C (45F) in Scotland to a maximum of 15C (59F) on the south coast of England. The warm spell is the latest weather novelty in a year which saw an Easter heatwave followed by snow in May and a variable summer.

Hedgehogs are among the wildlife left suffering by the sudden shifts. The Hedgehog Preservation Society has reported hundreds of baby hedgehogs around at the moment because of the knock-on effects of the unusual weather. Anne Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the preservation society, said there were always some "autumn orphans" - hedgehogs abandoned as their parents hibernated and too small to survive the winter.

But the strange weather has caused havoc to the breeding patterns. Many of the first litters were killed by the cold spell in May. Hedgehogs went on to breed again, with second litters coming as late as September. The result was many tiny babies now. "The seasons have really interfered," Mrs Jenkins said. The baby hedgehogs, the size of a grapefruit when half grown, had no chance of putting on enough weight to be able to survive without human help.

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