Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Two spring and no summer, but British wildlife adapts well

British wildlife adapts well to confusing year of two springs and no summer

Unusual weather

December 2011. Much British wildlife has enjoyed a successful year thanks to a mild spring and a warm autumn with abundant spring-like sunshine, according to experts at the National Trust. It managed to survive the cool and wet summer, the second in a row.

The weather for the year created favourable breeding conditions for many species with National Trust wildlife experts reporting a boom in grey seal, avocet, spring insects and autumn berries in particular. The warmest April and the second warmest autumn on record meant that warmth-loving insects such as butterflies, bumblebees and spring mining bees thrived.

The glorious autumn resulted in an abundance of fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs, especially apple, hawthorn and sloe, beech nuts and acorns. These provided deer, badgers and grey squirrels with a plentiful food source and fattened up well prior to see them through the tough winter months. Many winter birds will also benefit.

Matthew Oates, wildlife adviser at the National Trust, said: "The unusual weather this year has confused some of our native wildlife but many species have responded well.

"Wildlife emerged from winter to a fantastic spring which promised so much but failed to deliver for many species, which were let down by a poor summer. Luckily the ‘Indian summer' in autumn months with spring-like temperatures came to the rescue leading to many second appearances, an abundance of berries and huge numbers of migrant species to our shores."

A combination of the warm autumn and high winds has resulted in many rare bird visitors to our coast and countryside with North American buff-breasted sandpipers at several locations, desert wheatear at Man Sands in Devon, red-flanked bluetail at Orford Ness in Suffolk and a bufflehead at Helston Loe Pool in Cornwall.

The earliest spring this century lead to an early appearance of vibrant spring flowers. Primroses peaked at the end of March, a fantastic display of bluebells emerged during April and most vegetation and blossom appeared three to four weeks earlier than normal, but the dry conditions was not good news for frogs, toads and newts, as many of their breeding ponds dried up.

Autumnal tints were visible from late July, and by late August autumn was visible almost everywhere, due to the early start, local drought and summer cold. In much of England water levels were worryingly low, the lowest since 1976, with water rationing being threatened.

Matthew Oates continued: "It has certainly been an unpredictable year of weather and the extreme fluctuations throughout just a single year continue to provide challenges to our wildlife."

The year was preceded by the coldest December on record. But after the first week of January snowy conditions retreated beyond the Highland line. A mild, wet and windy week followed before dry but cold weather dominated the second half of January.

Waxwings, a scarce winter migrant bird, were widespread, feasting on berries in towns and countryside.

A fantastic winter for garden birds, with the nation spending a fortune on bird feed. Successful Big Garden Birdwatch weekend at end of month, with many fieldfares and redwings counted.

Hazel catkins were profuse, catching hay fever sufferers out late in the month.

Plenty of cloud and bands of rain brought in by westerly weather for most of the month. There were some strong winds in the first week but temperatures were generally near or above normal throughout.

Rooks started building and blackbirds tuning up by the middle of the month.

A 17 per cent increase in the number of flowering plants and bulbs in bloom suggests that spring arrived earlier than 2010, according to the annual flower count of 38 National Trust gardens on Valentine's Day

The year woke up with a bang in March, which after a cold grey start became one of the driest and sunniest on record.

Abundance of marsh fritillary caterpillars on downs in Dorset and Wiltshire; in places consuming all of their foodplant leaves (devil's bit scabious).

Frog & toad spawn appeared somewhat late the legacy of the cold December, then tadpole development was hindered by pools and ponds drying up.

Primroses flowered early, at peak in late March in the south, and finished there by Easter.

High pressure over or near to the UK for much of the month ushered in the warmest April on record, which was incredibly dry apart from in Scotland, Northern Ireland and NW England.

The best Easter weather on record, with temperatures reaching 24C on Easter Saturday.

Bluebells and an abundance of spring blossom, especially in orchards, but a poor year for the rare pasque flower due to spring drought.

The dry conditions caused heath and moor fires at places such as Marsden Moor in Yorkshire and chalk streams dried up.

Superb month for spring insects, including mining bees and their parasitic bee flies, and record immigration of bar-tailed godwits, pushed in by easterly winds in late April.

By the start of May vegetation in gardens and the countryside had rushed headlong into early summer but the fine weather broke at the end of the first week of May. The southern two thirds of Britain then experienced cold drought conditions, with many cold nights after grey windy days.

Vegetation and blossom was three to four weeks ahead of the norm - June arrived early. May blossom (hawthorn) was practically over in the south of England as the month began.

But much late frost damage in many districts, with many oaks defoliated. Difficult conditions for pregnant female bats, possibly delaying birth of pups.

Successful breeding season for avocets at Orford Ness in Suffolk, despite a lack of mud for feeding.

A cool, cloudy and wet month with with many cold nights though the rain helped to avoid drought conditions. It was especially poor in the north.

Another record year for the large blue butterfly at National Trust's Collard Hill reserve in Somerset, with the population up by a third on 2010's dizzy heights.

Purple emperor butterfly emerges at Bookham Common on 13 June - earliest national appearance since 1893.

July started and ended well, though the bulk of it continued the cool wet trend. It was a rather cool month overall, with mean temperatures about 1 °C below average over England and Wales making this the coolest July since 2000.

First blackberries were on bushes before the middle of the month roughly a month earlier than normal.

Cool weather meant that on many days, insects were reluctant to take to the wing in northern England.

Foul, wet and windy weather in the north did have a silver lining by encouraging the first waxcap fungi of the autumn in the Lake District.

August followed a similar pattern to July after a promising start. A cool and grey holiday season with a lot of rain in the north of England. The last good August was in 2006.

Rare heathland broad-headed bug (Alydus calcaratus) discovered by the National Trust's Biological Survey Team on Dunkery Beacon in Exmoor, along with the scarce cow-wheat shieldbug (Sehirus biguttatus). A rare tiger beetle wasp was discovered at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.

Poor feeding conditions for young bats due to cold weather and rain.

Apart from a gale at the end of the first week, September was pleasant, ending in a strong anticyclone, the first since the spring.

Early autumn leaf fall due mainly to spring and autumn drought.

Tail end of Hurricane Katia brought in many buff-breasted sandpipers from North America to places such as Dunkery Beacon in Somerset, and Dale Head in Pembrokeshire, but only a single vagrant monarch butterfly, to Ringstead Bay in Dorset.

Numbers of common crane fly, an important food source for bats and some birds seemed to continue to make a slow recovery after the population crash of 2007, possibly caused by the summer floods in that year.

October began with an un-seasonal heat-wave, producing the hottest October day ever. It was unusually mild, and dry away from the far west and north.

Fantastic autumn for fruits and berries from spring-flowering shrubs, especially apple, hawthorn and sloe, beech nuts and acorns. Deer, badgers and grey squirrels fattened up well to see them through the lean winter months.

Poor season for fungi in many districts, due to cool summer and autumn drought. Good though in East Anglia, including many waxcaps at Blickling and Hatfield Forest.

Good autumn for rare vagrant birds, including a red-flanked bluetail on Orford Ness, Suffolk coast. A kingfisher that had been ringed in Poland became a record breaker when it was seen at Orford Ness.

The second warmest November in over 100 years thanks to a southerly flow with only November 1994 warmer. Plenty of cloud at times and some persistent fog over eastern England, but any rainfall was showery and mainly confined to the west and north.

A ‘second spring', with many spring shrubs and plants flowering, including many dandelions and white dead nettle, and many garden plants.

Bats and moths active until late in the month as the warm weather lead to a longer lasting food supply.

Record breaking grey seal breeding season at Blakeney Point with more than 750 pups born from early November to mid-December.

A desert wheatear followed the southerly air steam up from North Africa to spend a few days at Man Sands in Devon.

Great year for holly and mistletoe berries in most districts, a knock on from the fine spring.

15 Short-eared owls overwintering at Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire, perhaps suggesting good success on Scandinavian breeding grounds and maybe a sign of a population crash in the vole population there. Also seen at Wimpole, Cambridgeshire, and on the North Wiltshire downs.

Pine marten tracks in snow at Castle Ward in County Down.

Five cranes paid a visit to Buscot and Coleshill Estate in Oxfordshire, possibly part of the influx that brought birds into the British Isles in November.

The autumn rains at last arrive in central and eastern England.


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