Counting the cost on nature

Fears that the cold and wet summer has had a negative impact on some of our favourite bird species has been confirmed by the RSPB today.

Results from the Make Your Nature Count survey have revealed that less baby blackbirds, song thrushes and robins were seen in gardens of the 78000 participants in June. The cold and wet weather could be to blame, making finding sufficient food difficult. Let’s hope that later broods have done better.

In my garden I was lucky enough to have robins and blackbirds breed successfully (although the single chick of the latter species was lucky to escape the clutches of one of the dozen or so cats that prowl the garden). It’s possible that these species managed to fare better due to them nesting in the dense ivy that clothes an oak tree.

More worrying has been the almost total lack of swifts in my vicinity.  Usually in late summer dozens of young and adults indulge in frenetic aerial chases, screaming as they tear across the sky. This year though my local swifts have been silent, solitary and almost mournful. The lack of breeding success seemingly crushing their normal joie de vivre.

Hopefully the fact that swifts are relatively long lived (twenty years or more in some cases), means that like some of our seabirds a blank year need not have a catastrophic impact on populations.

So what has done well in this dreadful summer? Slugs, snails, midges and mosquitoes have loved the wet and we might be able to add another ‘pest’, the cranefly. Using the strictly unscientific analysis of how many I’m gently removing from my house, I’d say daddy long-legs are more common than in any of the last five years. Gardeners may disagree but for birds and bats it could be good news as they attempt to fatten up for migration, hibernation or braving the cold of winter. Or will winter, like summer,  be cancelled too?


By Peter Brash, National Trust Animal Ecologist


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