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Summer washout drowns hopes of UK wildlife bonanza – The Guardian

The summer holiday washout wiped out a much needed bumper season for wildlife across the UK, according to wildlife experts at the National Trust.

A normal winter and balmy spring provided ideal conditions for birds, insects and plants but the heavy rains that rolled in during August dampened the promised bonanza. However, the weather patterns should see a good autumn for fungi and some nuts and berries.

“The [wet August] was especially damaging for warmth-loving insects, including many butterflies and bees,” said National Trust wildlife expert Matthew Oates. “It means we haven’t had a genuinely good summer since 2006 – the wait goes on. As we all know, you can’t rely on the weather.”

The rains were ushered in by a southward shift of the jet stream, which usually shepherds wet weather to the north of the UK. Scientists expect climate change to result in wetter UK summers, possibly linked to rapid ice melting in the Arctic affecting systems further south.

The UK’s wildlife is in decline, with a major report in 2016 finding one in 10 species are threatened with extinction and that the UK is “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”. The National Trust is the country’s biggest farmer with 2,000 tenants and the biggest landowner after the Forestry Commission, and it is aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

2017 began promisingly for wildlife, with a mild spring ensuring a good nesting season for many birds, with rarities such as the little tern doing well at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. The gentle spring also drew many flowers into blooming early, with daffodils in the Teign Valley woods appearing as early as mid-February and elder and dog rose appearing a month early at the end of April.

Moderate temperatures also boosted roe deer in some parts of the country. Glen Graham, National Trust ranger at Wallington Hall, Northumberland, said there was a much higher kid survival rate this year.

The early summer was dry and the RSPB said it received a lot of calls about house martin nests cracking, meaning chicks had to be moved into substitute containers. But the warm weather encouraged insects such as the purple emperor butterfly, which appeared at the National Trust’s Bookham Common, Surrey in mid-June, the earliest sighting since 1893. The rare and spectacular crane fly Ctenophora flaveolata was also spotted at Maidenhead Thicket in Berkshire.

But then the rains came, disrupting breeding, boosting the spread of diseases and leading to fast grass growth, which swamps the small plants many insects rely on. August had above average rainfall and the first half of the month was the coldest in the south-east of England in three decades, according to the Met Office.

The wet warm weather spells good news for fungi, such as the waxcap fungus



The wet warm weather spells good news for fungi, such as the waxcap fungus. Photograph: Corrinne Manning/National Trust Images

Matt Shardlow, from Buglife, said: “The summer has been so disappointing that there has been a national debate about the sparsity of flying insects and the absence of unfortunate splats on car windscreens. In addition to summer rain the warm wet winter was deeply unhelpful to insects trying to hibernate. It has been one of the least bountiful years for yellow-jacket wasp I can recall.”

The damp August was also the likely cause of the failure of nests established by bee-eaters at a quarry in Nottinghamshire in June – only the third time in a decade such nests have been seen, according to the RSPB.

The early summer heat followed by persistent rain is however likely to result in a good autumn for fungi, with waxcap fungi looking good on the National Trust’s Golden Cap meadows in West Dorset, where 22 species have been recorded.

Also benefitting are oaks, which have delivered huge acorns crops, and holly, which should provide plenty of berries for Christmas. But the early profusion of blackberries ended up rotting in the rain in many places.

Summer washout drowns hopes of UK wildlife bonanza – The Guardian

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