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The year of strange weather

From a baking-hot spring to a chilly summer, 2011 played havoc with our plans, our wardrobes – and our native wildlife.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The loveliest living creature

What's Britain's most beautiful creature? Many people would name a bird: the kingfisher springs to mind at once, and there'd be a raft of other candidates from the goldfinch to the roseate tern, all plausible. Some might name a mammal: I can see how the pine marten might have its supporters, all sleek deadly elegance in fur; and the common dolphin, with that great pale stripe along its side, is a heartstopping animal when you see it surging around your boat. But I'm going to name an insect.

More headlines

Warm spring brings bumper year for Britain's butterflies

British butterflies are expected in spectacular abundance this year, with more than a quarter of all species native to the isles having made their earliest recorded appearances as a result of the warmest spring for 351 years.

Cecil battles butterflies but fluent Frankel flies in his final

Facing a press conference later in the morning, Henry Cecil played down Frankel's work yesterday as "his final quiet piece" before the first Classic of the season on Saturday. Those who witnessed the young champion's latest detonation, however, would testify that "quiet" was just about the last word to describe the way Frankel once again scalded his lead horse, exploding several lengths clear. His trainer did admit that he has been delighted with Frankel's progress, since resurfacing at Newbury 11 days ago. "I'd be very surprised if he's not a better horse now than he was then," he said. "But we've still four days to go, haven't we?"

A spotter's guide to a wild orchid summer

In the tropics, they're outlandish: huge, exotic blooms ranging in colour from tangerine to puce, from snow-white to maroon, the world's most spectacular flowers.