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Weather and Wildlife Review 2023

Baby beaver in middle of green shrubbery gnawing on a branch
Beaver kit feeding at the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor | © National Trust Images/Barry Edwards

Unpredictable weather patterns during the last 12 months have thrown nature into chaos. Discover how wildlife fared in 2023, and find out about our vital work to address the nature and climate crises.

Weather and wildlife snapshot for 2023

A dry winter, the warmest June on record, a wet and mild autumn, plus back-to-back storms, have confused wildlife and people alike. As 2023 is anticipated to be the warmest year on record, and 2024 already forecast to be even warmer, we're sounding the alarm for UK wildlife. Our review shows how the loss of predictable weather patterns and traditional seasonal shifts are causing chaos for nature.


A dry start to the year did nothing to ease the low water levels caused by a lack of rainfall in 2022. Mild conditions also saw species, such as great crested newts at Dyffryn Gardens in south Wales and common lizards on the Norfolk Broads appear earlier than usual. While flooding in February boosted numbers of waterfowl on the Norfolk Broads, it was risky for small mammals. Similarly, rising river levels, seen again at the end of the year, helped ducks and pintails but made life more difficult for moles, voles and mice.


A cool start to March delayed the start of the blossom season. But once temperatures rose, vibrant displays of blossom could be seen across most areas of the UK. Hawthorn was abundant at many of the places we care for. The persistent cold at the beginning of the season also affected butterflies and other pollinators, forcing them to emerge later than usual. Brimstone butterflies, usually seen at Felbrigg Hall, Garden and Estate and Sheringham in Norfolk as early as February, were not spotted until well into March.

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Supporting people and nature in a changing climate

In this video, you'll discover how unpredictable weather patterns have affected woodlands, rivers, coastal and countryside places we care for. Join our presenter Jo Dyson as she explores the Holnicote Estate in Somerset to learn about our work to protect habitats, reduce flooding and create wetlands.


In the summer, the UK recorded its warmest ever June. The River Derwent in the Lake District's Borrowdale Valley, traditionally the wettest area of England, dried out for the third consecutive year. Sea temperatures reached new highs. The European Space Agency reported temperatures 3 to 4C above average, and the waters were warmer than usual off the north-east coast of England and Scotland and the north-west Ireland.

July was also the hottest month ever recorded globally, 1.5C warmer than average.

Early flowering meadow plants bloomed quickly during the hotter months. Some plant species such as yellow rattle bloomed up to eight weeks ahead of schedule.

On the Suffolk coast, the dry weather meant our rangers had to manually dampen sites to support wading birds and their chicks. Meanwhile, we worked hard to try to help seabird colonies at risk from bird flu at coastal places in Northumberland, Dorset and Wales.


Autumn was warmer and wetter than average with huge levels of rainfall, especially in October. Storms Babet and Ciaran battered parts of the country, causing serious flooding affecting people, nature, landscapes, buildings and coastlines.

Temperatures didn't drop until late in November, causing confusion for several species. The red deer at Holnicote delayed their rutting period, and plants at Glendurgan Garden in Cornwall flowered out of season. Warmer autumns such as these could mean dormice, like those we introduced at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire this summer, emerge early from hibernation, using up vital energy stores.

Wildlife winners in 2023


After a record year for Cornish choughs in 2022, numbers of these small black coastal birds increased by another 60 per cent in 2023. This meant 39 breeding pairs, raising approximately 112 chicks, were spotted across the land we care for on the Roseland peninsula and north of the Camel Estuary in Cornwall. This ongoing success is thanks our work with RSPB, Natural England, Cornwall Birds (CBWPS) and nature-friendly farmers to improve habitat conditions and monitor nests throughout the breeding season.


The beaver families at the Holnicote Estate in Somerset continue to grow. A fourth sibling joined the family at the Paddocks, and there were also two kits born at the second beaver enclosure at Whitemans. The beavers help us maintain higher water levels that keep the woodland lush and able to support a richer eco system.

Meanwhile, a family of four beavers were successfully released at the Wallington Estate in Northumberland and are already constructing dams and creating ponds to help regulate the estate's water levels.

The incremental shifts we’re experiencing in terms of our seasons extending may not feel like much in a 12-month period, but over a decade the changes are extremely significant.

A quote by Ben McCarthyNational Trust Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology
Natterjack toads mating
Natterjack toads underwater at Sandscale Haws, Cumbria | © National Trust Images/Neil Forbes

Natterjack toads

At Formby in Merseyside, rangers recorded the first natterjack toadlets since 2020 in May. As part of the Nationwide Dynamic Dunescapes project, we’ve been restoring existing pools and creating new ones. This stepping stone network of 26 pools, with different depths and conditions, means natterjack toads now have more options to help them cope with increasingly unpredictable weather conditions.

Black oil beetle

The rare black oil beetle was spotted at Kinver Edge in Staffordshire for the first time in nine years, thanks to ongoing work to restore and improve the local heathlands.


Fungi need wet and warm conditions to thrive. The rain in July and warm, wet conditions that continued into the autumn were ideal for waxcap grassland fungi and surveyors noticed a very early start to the season. In West Yorkshire, some rare fungi species, including dark velvet fanvault, were recorded for what is believed to be the first time ever in the UK. Other rare finds were made in the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District and the Peak District.

Wildlife losers in 2023


Bird flu returned to the Farne Islands this year, proving fatal for a range of seabirds. However, quick action was taken to collect dead birds to try and stop the spread, and fatalities fell by 39 per cent on last year.

Worryingly, the disease spread to five more seabird breeding sites around the UK, including Brownsea in Dorset, Cemlyn in north Wales, and Long Nanny in Northumberland, which is home to Britain’s largest mainland colony of Arctic terns, as well as a small colony of little terns. In total, more than 7,000 dead birds were collected from coastal places in our care.

The only exception was Blakeney Point on the Norfolk coast, where the little tern population remained largely unaffected and saw the highest number of chicks since 2020.

Mosses and liverworts

The consequences of last year's drought showed in the health of many mosses and liverworts in the temperate rainforest at Lydford Gorge on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. Temperate rainforests have a humid climate, and the drought in 2022 and the dry start to 2023 caused many of these plants to dry up. They can sometimes recover, but despite the higher levels of rain since July, they don’t appear to have survived.

Red deer

The warm autumn weather is affecting the rutting behaviour of red deer. The mating ritual normally begins in September, but warm weather is delaying it further into the winter. As a result calves are born later in the year, in summer rather than spring, potentially giving them less time to grow and put on the weight and fat needed to survive the winter.

Wildlife that experienced mixed fortunes in 2023


Sunny and settled weather occurred at just the right time for the flight period of the heath fritillary butterflies at the Holnicote Estate and the large blues at Collard Hill, both in Somerset. The grizzled skippers at Calke Abbey in Derbyshire were less lucky. A warm June impacted the plants they rely on for food, and numbers never recovered when bad weather thwarted the next phase of local reintroduction efforts.


Dunwich Heath in Suffolk lost over 60 per cent of its heather due to the extreme heat, drought and high numbers of heather beetle in 2022. While the rains that came in late this summer do seem to have allowed for some recovery, rangers estimate that around 40 per cent of the famous heathland is unlikely to recover. This also affects many other species, such as the rare Dartford warbler, whose recorded numbers in 2023 dropped from 30 breeding pairs to under 20.

Yellow sunrise over a river with morning mist rising and blue skies above. As the river tapers into the distance on the right, are a silhouetted clump of trees.

Everyone Needs Nature Appeal

Landscapes and the wildlife they support are threatened by climate change, but it's not too late to give nature hope. Donate today and you could help us create new meadows, areas of woodland, restore peatlands and protect nature for future generations to enjoy.

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