Bad weather sees wildlife struggle


Emily Beament
Monday 16 July 2012 14:12

This year's bad weather has proved “almost apocalyptic” for much of the UK's wildlife, the National Trust warned today.

Many birds, bats, butterflies, bees, amphibians and wildflowers have been struggling in the cold wet conditions and the Trust warns that the outlook for some species next year is bleak.

There have been some wildlife winners from the wettest April to June on record and the second dullest June ever recorded, but they are hardly Britain's most-loved species, with slugs and snails thriving in gardens.

Gardeners have also been battling to keep their fast-growing lawns mown, while bracken, nettles and brambles are all doing well in the countryside.

The wet weather has also been good for mosses and plants such as early gentian and bee orchids, and twayblade, pyramidal and common spotted orchids have been thriving on the trackways of Whipsnade Downs in Bedfordshire.

But the National Trust's conservation adviser Matthew Oates said the list of losers was much longer, and warned of local extinctions of species of rare and isolated insects such as butterflies.

Wet weather has hit the breeding attempts of a wide array of wildlife, with puffins drowned in their burrows, sea birds being blown off cliffs by gales and garden birds struggling to find enough food for their young.

At Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, adult terns have been struggling to keep eggs and chicks warm and dry through the relentless wet weather and it could be a year when no common, Arctic or Sandwich terns fledge from the site.

Puffins on the Farne Islands, managed by the National Trust, have had a catastrophic breeding year, with 90% of burrows lost on Brownsman Island and around half of burrows flooded on the other islands.

The cool conditions have also affected bats, in particular lesser and greater horseshoe bats whose pregnancies will have slowed down.

Pups will be born underweight and will not get enough nutrition from their mothers to grow enough to go into hibernation, Mr Oates warned.

Butterflies, bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and moths are all scarce in the wet conditions.

The dry start to the year dried up pools for amphibians to breed in, and when the rain arrived in April it filled up ponds with water too cool for frogs, newts and toads.

Small delicate annual flowers are struggling, although there have been some great displays of poppies in fields where agricultural spraying has failed due to the weather.

Mr Oates said: "This is turning out to be an almost apocalyptic summer for most of our much-loved wildlife - birds, butterflies, bees.

"So much so that the prospects for many of these in 2013 are bleak.

"Our wildlife desperately needs some sustained sunshine, particularly beneficial insects."

But he suggested that the weather might improve in the coming weeks: "Surely the Olympic three weeks will generate a wonderful heatwave - because we will all be glued to our TV sets?"

It is crucial that the jet stream, which is bringing the wet weather over the UK, shifts back to its more usual northerly position as the country was overdue a good August, he said.

A good summer next year would also allow species such as insects which have been in decline after two bad years to begin to rebuild populations and repopulate areas from where they have been lost.

He added: "We desperately need the sun on our backs", with good weather needed not just for wildlife, but for farmers, the tourism industry and the whole country.

The National Trust is urging people to get out into the countryside when the weather allows - and to take their wellies.


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