Wonderful summer enables wildlife recovery

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After several years of decline, much of Britain’s traditional wildlife began to make a serious comeback with one ecological expert calling 2013 “one of the most remarkable wildlife years in living memory”.

A series of poor summers, culminating in 2012 hosting one of the wettest summers on record, have had a horrendous impact on the nation’s wildlife, with several key species seeing declines in numbers.

However, with hotter temperatures returning in 2013, a comeback appears to be under way.

Research from the National Trust claimed that the winners of the year were warmth-loving insects, particularly butterflies, moths, bees, crickets and grasshoppers, many of which fared really well.

The distinctive tree bumblebee, which only started to colonise in the UK in 2001, expanded considerably, crossing north of Hadrian’s Wall for the first time.

This year’s boost marked a distinct change for many insects that had become generally very scarce in 2012 due to the poor weather.

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s national specialist on nature and wildlife, said: “We were more than overdue a good summer, and eventually we got a real cracker, although it kicked in after the slowest of possible starts.

“The way our butterflies and other sun-loving insects bounced back in July was utterly amazing, showing nature’s powers of recovery at their best. Many birds and mammals also recovered well from the cold late spring. Importantly, we have seen more winners than losers in our wildlife year, which is a tremendous result, considering where we were last year.

“2013 made itself into one of the most remarkable wildlife years in living memory.

“For most specialist naturalists, such as birders and butterfliers, it became deeply memorable – because naturalists, like many other people, collect memories. Great wildlife experiences make special places extra special. Best of all, this year has set up 2014 very nicely.”

Many plants had a successful year as did grasses, which grew prolifically again after a late start.

Orchids flowered successfully, particularly at Plas Newydd on Anglesey where there was a fantastic explosion of colour in the meadows.

The cool spring provided a long flowering season for spring flowers such as snowdrops, primrose and bluebell, while the rare pasque flower benefited from flowering before the grass started to grow.

Later in the year, there was an explosion of berries, nuts and seeds. The heavily-laden boughs were a legacy to the fine start to June when the trees and bushes flowered much later than usual.

Autumn colour was boosted further by the excellent array of fungi, which thrived on the hot summer conditions that arrived without the accompanying drought. Honey fungus was particularly abundant, while field mushrooms also thrived.

However, the year also had its losers with the cold, late spring proving to be a very difficult time for a lot of wildlife.

Many summer migrant birds, such as swallows and martins, and residents like the owls, especially the barn owl, suffered badly.

This extended cold period was also a difficult time for breeding frogs and toads and for many mammals coming out of hibernation. Despite this poor start, however, many birds and animals picked up well during the summer.

Garden aphids also had a poor year, which although good news for gardeners was bad news for the seven-spot ladybird and various hoverflies and birds, including tits, which feed on them.

The cold spring and hot summer provided another welcome relief for gardeners as the number of slugs was radically reduced compared to last year’s plague.