Weather and Wildlife Review 2022
Extreme temperatures and unpredictable weather conditions are creating stark challenges for nature. Back-to-back winter storms, a warm spring, hot summer and mild autumn plus a recent cold snap, have resulted in more losses than wins for UK wildlife in 2022. Find out how birds, land and marine animals, insects, reptiles, trees and plants fared through the seasons and what we're doing to help heal climate harm.
Weather and wildlife snapshot for 2022
Extreme weather conditions seen this year are set to become the new normal. This will have a devastating impact on wildlife unless more is done to tackle the climate and nature crises. Despite a tough year for UK nature, we've seen wildlife better able to cope at places where conservation efforts are already underway to build resilience into landscapes.
A warm January was followed by back-to-back storms in February. Storms Eunice and Franklin brought down trees at Dinefwr in Wales, Stourhead in Wiltshire, Anglesey Abbey and Wimpole in Cambridgeshire and Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire. Severe flooding was also reported by our teams at Dudmaston in Shropshire and Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire.
A mild spring with no late frosts meant many areas enjoyed vibrant displays of blossom in trees and hedgerows. Bird migration to the east coast of England was later than normal and the numbers of visiting birds were down. The position of the jetstream meant the wind direction wasn't coming from the south, which hindered the movement of birds from south to north.
We saw fewer ground-nesting birds such as red grouse in Northern Ireland after last year's fire at Slieve Donard. But the common lizard and grayling butterfly bounced back following conservation work to restore the heathland.
Drought affected many areas during the summer with hot and dry conditions drying up rivers, damaging crops, lawns and garden plants, destroying habitats and affecting the feeding of livestock.
In July and August wildfires broke out at the places we care for in the South West, including Zennor Head in Cornwall, Bolberry Down in south Devon, Baggy Point in north Devon and Studland in Dorset. These destroyed the homes of the silver blue butterfly, rare sand lizards and smooth snakes. Our work to link nature habitats and create a 'super' nature reserve on the Purbeck Heaths in Dorset will help the land recover more quickly from the fire damage. This is because species in nearby unaffected areas can recolonise the burnt landscape.
Also, conservation work in the Peak District has allowed water levels to rise and helped to re-establish important sphagnum mosses, which have protected precious peatland from the worst of the summer drought.
With a record high temperature of 40.3C recorded at Coningsby in Lincolnshire during the July heatwave, this summer joined 2018 as the warmest on record since 1884.
A mild autumn and the arrival of rain resulted in a good showing of many varieties of fungi. Some gardens even saw signs of spring with rhododendrons and delphiniums blooming in the warm temperatures. Across the UK, many trees produced a large amount of nuts or fruits. This was in part due to a mild spring but may also have been a stress response caused by drought.
Wildlife winners in 2022
The hot, dry summer and unusually warm October had little impact on autumn colour. Although many poplars and sycamores dropped their leaves in August and early September because of the drought, it was still a colourful autumn across the UK. Leaves kept their colour and stayed on the trees for longer due to a lack of frost.
Seeds and nuts
Areas in the east and the north of England and Northern Ireland saw a glut of seeds and nuts, including acorns, beech masts, rowan berries and elderberries. While this phenomenon, known as a mast year, typically happens every four to five years, 2022 was unusual because trees fruited earlier than normal. It's thought the summer drought put the trees under stress, causing them to produce an abudance of seeds to ensure their genes survived. The bumper crop was a good source of food for squirrels, jays, badgers and mice.
The family of beavers at the Holnicote Estate in Somerset are thriving. Two new kits were born this year in addition to the first kit that was born in 2021. The beavers help us maintain higher water levels that keep the woodland lush and able to support a richer eco system.
Choughs have been breeding in Cornwall for 20 years. This year was another record-breaking year with 25 pairs breeding on the land we care for. The chough population in Cornwall is now 200-strong and the birds can be seen all around the coast. But the dry weather saw some birds moving inland to search for food. It's likely that the ground of the coastal strip, where they normally feed, was too hard for them to dig out earthworms, beetles, ants and other insects.
Many of the places we care for had a bumper apple crop this year, largely thanks to the dry spring weather, which attracted plenty of pollinators. There were also no late frosts affecting the blossom.
Wildlife losers in 2022
Bird flu wiped out several thousand seabirds across the UK. The Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland were badly hit in June when the virus spread quickly through large numbers of nesting birds, many of which were packed onto the cliff ledges after returning to the island for the breeding season. National Trust rangers cleared away the dead carcasses of kittiwakes, gulls, shags and puffins to slow the spread. The final number of dead birds is expected to be around 6,000 but many thousands more are thought to have fallen into the sea.
Bats struggled to cope with the summer heat. Many young bats at Wallington in Northumberland became dehydrated and disorientated in July. Our rangers took care of the bats they found by rehydrating them using tiny pipettes of water before placing them in a cooler, dark place to rest and recover.
Pipistrelle bats at Crom in Northern Ireland also experienced difficulties and many needed our care. Numbers were down by approximately 300 on the 732 recorded in 2021.
Early flowering plants such as cuckooflower and cowslips got off to a good start this summer, while later flowering species such as white campion or yellow rattle did less well in the drought conditions. Many plants flowered and set seed early, including bramble. This was bad news for redwings and bumblebees that need sugar-rich fruit to see them through the autumn.
Despite lots of spawn and tadpoles in the spring, there were no sightings of toadlets at Formby in Liverpool or across the Sefton coast. This is because their pools dried up before they could complete their metamorphosis. Work is underway to protect natterjack toads from climate change and long periods of hot weather. At Formby, we've created five pools and improved two existing pools to give the toads options for breeding in different types of weather.
Drought and high temperatures devastated populations of young trees planted last year at the places in our care. Many trees at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire and the Buscot and Coleshill Estate in Oxfordshire were too young to establish themselves to deal with the conditions. But new trees in areas of Wales had an 80 per cent survival rate due to higher levels of rain and moisture in the soil.
Wildlife that experienced mixed fortunes
While some species suffered after summer heat and drought destroyed the flower-rich areas they depend on, others such as the clouded yellow and Queen of Spain fritillary visiting from continental Europe thrived in the warm weather. Conservation measures have helped species such as the large blue butterfly, which was reintroduced to Rodborough Common in Stroud in 2019.
While species such as the Emperor Dragonfly thrive in warmer temperatures, the UK's smallest resident dragonfly, the black darter, has been declining for the past 50 years. Dry conditions likely make it more difficult for black dater larvae to survive.
Drought affected the quality of pasture forcing many farmers to feed livestock during the summer months. Wimpole in Cambridgeshire was one of the worst hit sites with farmers reporting poor quality grass and hay and higher costs. But farmers managing upland sites in Snowdonia, north Wales and the Lake District had the best summer for 30 years. Short periods of rain and sunshine in these areas created good quality crops and grass.
While dry conditions meant heather struggled to flower on Dunwich Heath in Suffolk, many areas of the Peak District enjoyed stunning displays of flowers in May thanks to a lack of wind and a wetter April.
Both Arctic terns and little terns escaped the worst of avian flu and had a successful year at Long Nanny in Northumberland. They owe their good fortune to settled weather and no high tides during the spring. Our rangers reported that 56 of the little terns had fledged and counted 1,200 Arctic tern nests, estimating that at least 800 had fledged. But tidal surges, heavy rain and wind hit many tern colonies in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease affecting the country’s native ash trees. As many as four out of five ash trees may be affected and, where the dying trees could cause a threat to human safety, we need to remove them.
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