2016's wildlife losers

Wicken Fen  - Common blue butterfly

Another mild winter proved devastating for some of our wildlife species.

An orange tip butterfly resting on a wildflower

1. Butterflies and bees

Rampant grass growth has hit butterflies, bees and other insects that breed and feed on small herbs, grasses, and wildflowers that can’t compete with rampant coarse grasses. At Ballard Down on Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, a cold spring meant numbers of early butterflies like orange tip and green hairstreak were below average – and no Brimstones were seen.

Lavender Garden at Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset

2. Arable plants

Rare arable plants have been squeezed out by heavy grass growth in much of the country. At Lytes Cary, Somerset, field margins planted with rare arable weeds like endangered Spreading hedge parsley and nationally-scarce Blue pimpernel were crowded out by rye and couch grasses.

Slug at Morden Hall Park

3. Slugs

Gardeners have battled slugs, which have enjoyed the mild and wet weather. At Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury, gardeners had to replant their dahlias three times, after slugs claimed the first two sets of plants.

Mowing with a scythe on the Lizard, Cornwall

4. Gorse, brambles and footpaths

Rangers and volunteers have struggled to control strong gorse and bramble growth. On the Northumberland Coast it is estimated that rangers spent an extra ten days cutting back brambles and nettles from footpaths. This was probably due more to the mild winter than the cool damp summer.

Barn owl with field vole in its beak

5. Field vole

In many places it has been a poor year for the field vole, which goes through a 3-4 year cycle of boom and bust. 2016 seems to have been a deep trough in numbers in many places. Field voles are the fast food snack of choice for many of our most iconic predators, such as barn owls and kestrels. Without them barn owls do not breed well, with no barn owl broods at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales or Dyrham Park, near Bath.