2018 weather and wildlife review

Seal pups at Blakeney Point in Norfolk and the Farne Islands off  the Northumberland coast have flourished this year

Raging storms and seesawing temperatures have taken UK wildlife on an extraordinary ride this year.

A long harsh winter, the Beast from the East, a mild spring and baking hot summer meant some animals and plants thrived, while others struggled. 2018 saw changes to the migratory patterns of birds, flourishing seal populations, parched grassland and resilient fruit trees. 

Keeping an eye on the weather gives us a better understanding of the challenges facing wildlife. We can then make changes to the landscape to help it cope better in the future. The National Trust aims to create 25,000 more hectares of land for wildlife at the places we care for by 2025.  

David Bullock, head of species and habitat conservation at the National Trust, says: 'This year's unusual weather does give us some indication of how climate change could look and feel, irrespective of whether this year's was linked to climate change.  

'It's becoming less predictable every year to gauge what weather we are likely to experience, and what this means for our wildlife. 

'We need to ensure that we continue to look after the land in our care and work with others to create a joined up areas of the countryside, in effect nature corridors, to enable wildlife to move around easily if needed, to survive any type of weather.'

Birds

Many birds were caught up in the devastation left by the cold snap at the end of February. Freezing temperatures claimed the lives of many seabirds on the east coast, including guillemot, shag, fulmar and kittiwake.

The Beast from the East, which raged across continental Europe at the end of February, saw the arrival of many unusual birds on UK shores. Among the birds forced to leave the continent and travel westwards in February and March were fieldfare, redwing, golden plover, lapwing, snipe, jack snipe and woodcock.

A scattering of  Arctic redpoll, known for the distinctive red spots on their heads, were also seen in the east of England. And snowy owls, which are usually only found in the Arctic and rarely visit the UK, were seen at Scolt Head Island off the Norfolk coast in February and St David's in Wales in late March. 

The hawfinch, normally a shy bird that is difficult to spot, was seen in its hundreds in Sussex and Surrey in March. Many of these silver-billed birds came over to the UK from eastern Europe and returned there to breed.

Bechstein's bat (Myotis bechsteinii)

Bats 

The long dry summer was good for bats, including the rare greater and lesser horseshoe bats, as it gave them more time to fatten up on bugs and insects before the autumn. Find out more about what these fascinating creatures get up to in the winter months.

Butterflies and moths

Rare butterflies such as the silver-studded blue, the Adonis and Chalkhill blues had a good year. The mild weather meant that these butterflies had second or third broods into late summer and early autumn in the south west. 

In late October many striking butterflies were spotted in Dorset, including speckled woods, small tortoiseshells, red admirals and clouded yellows. 

Butterflies that feed on nettles, such as tortoiseshells, red admirals and commas didn't have an easy time. Pesticides, parasites and climate change are all reasons that could be behind the falling numbers. 

The migrant silver Y moth was seen in its highest ever numbers at Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland. 

Lizard Point stretching into the Atlantic

Marine life

Thousands of shellfish (including lobsters), starfish and fish died and were washed up on the east coast because of the sudden cold snap at the end of February. But the warm weather in June led to bluefin tuna being spotted off Lizard Point in Cornwall, as well as record numbers of Mediterranean gulls.

Fluffy white grey seal pup lying on the sand

Seals 

Atlantic grey seal pups at Blakeney Point in Norfolk and the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland have flourished this year.

In January 2019, rangers at Blakeney Point confirmed that seal pup numbers at the reserve exceeded 3,000 for the first time since records began. The seal colony, now the largest in England, has thrived in the remote and peaceful surroundings of the reserve.

On the Farne Islands the number of pups has increased by 50 per cent in five years. Our rangers counted 2,602 pups in 2018, compared to 1,740 in 2014. A large amount of sand eels (the seals' favourite food) and few predators are thought to be behind the increase in numbers. 

Find out how our rangers keep track of the seal pups and why counting them is so important.

Video

Goats

Goat numbers were down on Cheddar Gorge because so few of the kids, born between January and March, survived the Beast from the East. In the Isle of Wight, however, it took 20 National Trust staff and 73 volunteers an entire morning to round up all 21 Old English goats on Ventnor Downs. Watch the team chase these elusive animals through 10ft-high blackthorn, bracken and brambles, and discover how the goats are helping protect the precious chalk grassland, home to the rare Adonis blue butterfly.

Male natterjack toad

Toads

Natterjack toads, known for their loud croak and distinctive markings, had a tough time during the summer. The heat dried out the pools they live in, and in some cases claimed areas of water they have relied on for ten years. But the heat also led to a fall in predators, such as dragonfly larvae, which feed on toads' eggs and tadpoles.

Trees, meadows and moorland

Many fruit  trees managed to make it through the cold long winter and sprang into life on the late arrival of spring. The moisture in the air stood the fruit trees in good stead for the baking hot summer, leading to a glut of apples, brambles, damson, pears, figs and sloes. 

However, many of the places we look after found signs of the disease Ash dieback, caused by a fungus, on both young and old trees. 

The hot summer wasn't kind to the fields and meadows, which became scorched and dried up around the country. There wasn't enough lush grass for grazing animals so farmers had to supplement their feed with hay and silage from earlier harvests. 

But the grasses truned green again during a 'second spring' in the the autumn, and we saw the return of spring blooms such as violets and primrose. 

Wild fires on Saddleworth Moor in Greater Manchester and Winter Hill in Lancashire ripped through moorland and bracken, destroying areas home to groundnesting birds and reptiles. Ancient peatland and large areas of heather were also destroyed.