Summer 2017 wildlife review
The summer holiday washout has wiped out a bumper season for wildlife, National Trust experts said today.
Family holidays were not the only victims of recent wet weather, with wildlife suffering from extensive summer rain.
2017 was on course to being the best summer for wildlife in over a decade - ending a long run of cool damp summers after mild winters - until the jet stream jumped south just when the summer holidays began.
The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025. The weather, of course, influences this ambition, both positively and negatively.
Nature and wildlife expert Matthew Oates, said, “After a highly promising spring and early summer, the good weather was disrupted and the rains came down. This was especially damaging for warmth-loving insects, including many butterflies and bees.
“It means we haven’t had a genuinely good summer since 2006 - the wait goes on. However, much of our wildlife certainly benefited from fine weather during April, May, June and the first half of July.”
For once, winter stayed within its normal parameters and a balmy spring ensured a successful nesting season for many birds, with rarities like the Litter Tern doing well at Blakeley Point in Norfolk. Similarly, the good weather helped many flowers come into bloom ahead of the norm, including daffodils appearing in the Teign Valley woods as early as mid-February, while elder and dog rose also jumped the gun, appearing at the end of April – a month early.
Moderate temperatures also boosted the population of roe deer in parts of the country. Glen Graham, National Trust ranger at Wallington Hall, Northumberland, reported a much higher kid survival rate this year, which was attributed to milder conditions.
The good weather, including a midsummer heatwave, did help some insects to appear unusually early. This included the Purple Emperor butterfly appearing at Bookham Gardens, Surrey, on June 11th - the earliest siting since 1893 – while the rare and spectacular crane fly Ctenophora flaveolata was spotted at Maidenhead Thicket in Berkshire.
But the prospects for many winged creatures and other insect populations came crashing down as Britain experienced one of the wettest August’s on record. As well as disrupting breeding habits, extensive periods of wet weather threatens insects with viruses, pathogens and mould, and causes an unwelcome surge in grass growth. High summer and late summer weather was particularly dismal in the north and west.
Aside from a fine spell mid-month, and a moderate bank holiday weekend, August was wet and windy with temperatures struggling to reach the mid-twenties. However, the summer’s weather pattern – early heat followed by persistent rains – is likely to result in a good autumn for fungi, and may well benefit spider populations too.
Matthew Oates added, “Our rangers are working closely with our tenant farmers to provide the right habitats for wildlife at our places, but as we all know, you can’t rely on the weather. The north has had a particularly rough time while the South East has had quite a good summer.”
The prospects look good for many autumn fruits, seeds, nuts and berries, reflecting a fine spring. There is a huge acorn crop, hawthorn berries are again profuse and there should be plenty of holly berries for Christmas. Unfortunately, what was an excellent crop of blackberries is rotting in the rain.
2017 may also go down as the summer in which ash dieback disease became prominent across parts of the UK. The infectious disease is worrying for conservationists as evidence points towards an increase in disease driven by fungi.