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2012 weather was great for slugs, bad for mammals - What thrived and what struggled?

02/01/2013 11:08:17

The wet weather meant a very bad year for bees and other pollinators

Wild weather leads to the ‘Year of the Slug'

January 2013. Unsettled, unpredictable and at times chaotic weather has meant that this year has been hugely challenging for wildlife, according to experts at the National Trust. Whilst birds and insects have struggled, slugs and orchids have done well throughout Britain in our special places.

Matthew Oates, wildlife adviser at the National Trust, said: "This has been a highly polarised year, with wildlife in the places we look after doing either remarkably well or incredibly badly. In general, plants and slugs were the big winners and insects the big losers. But even in this wet summer some insects did surprisingly well, at least in a few places. Our wildlife, farmers, horticulturalists and rural tourism and recreation industries are all long overdue a good summer, having suffered poor ones since 2006. Surely we are due a good one next year?"

Drought and floods
It was a spring of two halves with the warmest March since 1910 and the implementation of drought orders across England followed by the wettest April on record.

The April downpour had a detrimental impact on fruit harvests in the autumn as the spring rains washed away the blossom resulting in a very bad year for English apples across the board and autumn fruits and berries such as sloes and holly berries.

Wet summer
Another poor summer has hit British wildlife hard as it struggled to cope with the very wet conditions and a distinct lack of long dry summer days though some species have gone against the flow and thrived.

It was a bad summer for the insect pollinators and even those flowers that were pollinated have struggled to set fruit in the ongoing we weather with a knock on affect for birds and animals that depends on these crucial food sources.

Bees, butterflies and hoverflies also suffered a set back this year because of the mixed weather becoming generally very scarce, though there were welcome exceptions in some places where the Chalkhill blue and dark-green fritillary did spectacularly well.

Some damsel and dragon flies fared well, with 22 species of dragonfly recorded at Scotney Castle. This photo, taken by Agnieszka Dymek, won the insects & bugs section of the Wildlife Extra UK wildlife photo competition 2011.

Some damsel and dragon flies fared well, with 22 species of dragonfly recorded at Scotney Castle. This photo, taken by Agnieszka Dymek, won the insects & bugs section of the Wildlife Extra UK wildlife photo competition 2011.

Wasps and slugs
The good news for summer picnickers, if there were any, this year was that there were hardly any common wasps.

The one big winner in 2012 has been the slug with reports of a giant Spanish super slug invading our back gardens. One impact of the damp conditions has been rapid grass growth with a knock on effect for smaller plants (such as bastard toadflax) and insects including grasshoppers, which need warm bare ground pockets.

Good year for the orchids
Orchids have also been big winners this year. They've had a fantastic year almost everywhere, with reports of stunning flowerings from all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It's been a very patchy breeding year for birds with many nests being abandoned due to bad weather and/or shortage of food, even in gardens. A lot of storm and flood destruction, to cliff nesting birds and birds that nest along riverbanks.

Bad for mammals
Mammals have also had a mixed year, with bats having an especially difficult time. Water mammals have also suffered greatly, with water vole holes and otter spraints (making recording difficult) being washed away in the heavy floods. Animal sanctuaries are now being inundated with underfed hedgehogs. Dormice also had a poor breeding season.

A more predictable autumn saw a quite late display of autumn colour as the leaves turned ahead of the winter months.

Weather highlights of 2012.

• Lanhydrock in Cornwall recorded its earliest flowering magnolia on New Year's Day. 
• Unpredicted heavy rain set in on New Year's Day, a foretaste of things to come. 
• Snowdrops and crocuses flowered early in mild winter weather
• Short-eared owls successfully over-wintered almost throughout Britain. Definitely the bird of the winter.

• A survey of 50 National Trust gardens on Valentine's Day found that spring had arrived early in some parts of the country and that there was a 19 per cent increase in flowers in bloom compared to 2011.
• It was a cold start to the month with snow falling quite far south. 
• Rooks began building nests widely from the 10th, earlier in the year than typical.

• It was a second consecutively dry March, with much of England covered by drought orders by its end, including much of Yorkshire. 
• There was a superb warm and sunny spell from 19th - 30th, the best weather of the year; helping it become the third warmest and fifth driest March on record.
• Supposedly extinct large tortoiseshell butterflies were seen at Newtown on the Isle of Wight.
• Badgers struggled to find food in dry soil.

• Jet stream jumps south on the 4th, ensuring a dismal early Easter with snow in the north; and it was the wettest April on record in England and Wales. 
• Much of England covered by hosepipe bans.
• Kingfisher holes and water vole burrows drowned by floods.
• The dry start to 2012 lead to a short and sweet bluebell season

• Widespread failure of spring fruit blossom (apple, holly etc) due to wet weather.
• Cuckoos fail to breed at Wicken Fen for the first time. 
• Eight lovely days at the end of the month allow some insect populations to recover.
• A very rare cream-coloured courser spotted at Bradnor Hill, north Herefordshire - the twitch of the year.

• Fantastic month for orchids, especially bee orchids with particularly spectacular displays at Blakeney on Norfolk coast and Stackpole Warren in Pembrokeshire, and hundreds of fly orchids on Dunstable Downs.
• Despite the poor weather, large blue butterflies emerged in good numbers and laid a record number of eggs at the National Trust's Collard Hill in Somerset.
• Spectacular breeding success for sandwich and little terns at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, though terns failed to breed at Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland.


• July was very wet, with over 150 per cent of normal rainfall widely, and in parts of eastern Scotland it was one of the wettest on record.

• Slugs and snails in abundance; and the arrival of Spanish super-killer slugs make the headlines.
• More than 10,000 pyramidal orchids make a spectacular show at Sharpenhoe Clappers in the North Chilterns.
• A good year for dragonflies, with 22 species recorded at Scotney Castle moat, Kent.

• There were very low numbers of common wasps making picnics a more pleasurable experience.
• Scatter of decent days, and occasional nice weekend. 
• Swifts depart, after very poor breeding season.
• It was a terrible summer for bee keepers - bees have had to be fed at the National Trust's Attingham Park, West Midlands.

• As the children return to school the weather begins to improve.
• It's been a very poor year for apple crops across the board - for example, a 90 per cent drop in Dorset affecting cider production.
• With the warmer weather there were some signs of a second spring effect such as the bogbean flowering at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, which normally flowers in April).
• Numbers of the autumn ivy bee (Colletes hederae) seriously down in south Devon.

• Massive landfall of thrushes from Scandinavia at Blakeney Point, Orford Ness and Farne Isles on the east coast on the 22nd. 
• Pheasant feeder bins emptying much faster than usual, due to unusually hungry birds, mice and other mammals.
• Unusually good autumn colours across an extended season which took longer to peak at hotspots such as Stourhead in Wiltshire and Winkworth in Surrey

• A reasonable good show of waxcap fungi in Lake District and Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion.
• Another excellent year for seal pups at Farne Islandsd and Blakeney Point -with both sites breaking the 1,000 barrier - including (unusually) a successful set of twins.
• More floods in the south-west and then the north of England.

• Very poor year for holly berries generally, due to the wet spring. However there was a reasonable crop in northern areas and on high ground where the trees flowered later, during a fine spell in late May.
• Great winter for the normally rare migrant bird - the waxwing.

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