Weather and wildlife
Writing this during the warm dry spell in late July I am wondering what will happen to our weather by the time you read it in August.
Will it be wet and cool again, or will everything have dried out, leaving the countryside parched and our wildlife more confused than ever?
This year has thrown up more problems for birds, animals and insects than usual. Having adapted to living here over millions of years it might be thought that the odd year of extreme weather would be but a blip in the lives of the creatures with which we share this bit of the planet. That may once have been the case, but the trouble now is that we have put so much pressure on wildlife that it is not so easy for it to ride out poor conditions. Shrinking habitats and reduced and fragmented populations increase the risk of local extinctions. When problems come along, as this year, the fragmentation and isolation increases and so the vicious circle goes on.
Different species suffer in different ways because of the timing of their breeding cycle. Frogs and toads, for instance, had a hard time before the rains came with many of the ponds containing spawn drying out. Then birds such as snipe and lapwing had their ground nests washed away in the heavy rains and floods. Creatures that nest in banks or underground, from moles and voles to kingfishers and mining bees, also suffered from being flooded out.
Many insects had difficulty in getting out and about to feed and breed (hence the very poor apple crop this year because of the absence of pollinating insects when the trees were in blossom). The absence of insects, both adults and grubs and caterpillars, in turn affected birds like warblers and tits who need the insects to feed their young. Species that depend upon flying insects, such as bats and swifts, will often have gone hungry and will have raised fewer young. The next time you hear someone blame magpies for the dearth of small birds in parks and gardens remember that many other factors are at work, especially the weather.
If things improve for a few weeks it will be too late for a lot of wildlife. The chance to raise young has gone. If conditions are good next year many species will have a chance to bounce back. There is though no guarantee of that.
This is the fifth or six poor summer in a row and the effects are starting to accumulate. This makes it more important than ever to reverse the effects of people's activities on wildlife, and to redouble our efforts to repair some of the damage we have done.
You can help by feeding the birds in your garden and supporting your local wildlife organisations.