Finally, the return of the Great British Summer

After six consecutive poor summers, a hot July and August helped to turn around the fortunes for much of our wildlife, say experts at the National Trust.

The winners of the year were warmth-loving insects, particularly butterflies, moths, bees, crickets and grasshoppers, many of which fared really well. The distinctive tree bumblebee, which only started to colonize in the UK in 2001, expanded considerably, crossing north of Hadrian’s Wall for the first time.

Tree Bumble Bee B hypnorum Savernake, credit Matthew Oates

This year’s boost marked a distinct change for many insects which had become generally very scarce in 2012 due to the poor weather.

Matthew Oates, National Specialist on Nature and Wildlife, at the National Trust, said: “We were more than overdue a good summer, and eventually we got a real cracker, although it kicked in after the slowest of possible starts.

“The way our butterflies and other sun-loving insects bounced back in July was utterly amazing, showing nature’s powers of recovery at their best.  Many birds and mammals also recovered well from the cold late spring.

“Importantly, we have seen more winners than losers in our wildlife year, which is a tremendous result, considering where we were last year.”

Many plants had a successful year as did grasses, which grew prolifically again after a late start. Orchids flowered successfully, particularly at Plas Newydd in Anglesey where there was a fantastic explosion of colour in the meadows.

Plas Newydd orchids, credit Mike Alexander 02

The cool spring provided a long flowering season for spring flowers such as snowdrops, primrose and bluebell, whilst the rare pasque flower benefited from flowering before the grass started to grow.

Later in the year, there was an explosion of berries, nuts and seeds. The heavily-laden boughs were a legacy to the fine start to June when the trees and bushes flowered much later than usual.

Spindle berries (Euonymus) in autumn at Hatfield Forest, Essex.

Autumn colour was boosted further by the excellent array of fungi, which thrived on the hot summer conditions that arrived without the accompanying drought. Honey fungus was particularly abundant, while field mushrooms also thrived.

However, the year also had its losers with the cold, late spring proving to be a very difficult time for a lot of wildlife. Many summer migrant birds, such as swallows and martins, and residents like the owls, especially the barn owl, suffered badly.

Barn owl, credit Pete Brash

This extended cold period was also a difficult time for breeding frogs and toads and for many mammals coming out of hibernation. Despite this poor start, however, many birds and animals picked up well during the summer months.

Garden aphids also had a poor year, which although good news for gardeners was bad news for the 7-spot ladybird and various hoverflies and birds, including tits, which feed on them.

Great tit, credit Pete Brash

The cold spring and hot summer provided another welcome relief for gardeners as the number of slugs was radically reduced compared to last year’s plague.

Matthew Oates summed up: “2013 made itself into one of the most remarkable wildlife years in living memory. For most specialist naturalists, such as birders and butterflyers, it became deeply memorable – because naturalists, like many other people, collect memories. Great wildlife experiences make special places extra special. Best of all, this year has set up 2014 very nicely.”


  • A mild first half of the month, followed by a 10 day cold, snowy spell. 
  • A wonderful winter for Waxwings, making it the best for many years. Bird of the winter. 


  • A dry but cold and grey February, causing the land to dry out.
  • Snowdrops continued to flower for an unusually long period, slowed down by the cold weather.
  • Rooks started building mid-month and went on to have a hugely successful nesting season, despite the weather.
  • Although, unfortunately, it was a poor breeding year for chough on the Lizard and on the Welsh coast.
  • A survey of 54 gardens at National Trust properties revealed that the cold, snowy weather put a pause on spring as flowering plants and bulbs held off for warmer weather. There was a reduction of nearly 46 per cent of plants in bloom compared to last year.


  • The coldest March on record since 1962 and colder than December, January or February.
  • The extreme cold weather caused frogs to fail to breed in many ponds.
  • Badgers and hedgehogs suffered from a shortage of worms and there was little food around for dormice coming out of hibernation, although these recovered later in the year and mostly went on to have successful breeding seasons.
  • A disastrous month for owls, especially barn owls, and many seabirds died off the North East coast from starvation. 


  • April began with a cold drought, then became pleasant towards the middle of the month, but finished with a cool ending.
  • Spring was running late, with dandelions reaching their peak only at the end of the month, two to three weeks late, and trees were leafing three weeks late.
  • A difficult time for nesting birds and returning summer migrants, which arrived on time, as food was in short supply due to the late spring.
  • A really challenging start to the season for bats due to the shortage of nocturnal flying insects.


  • The month started and ended well, but it was otherwise cool and grey with many cold nights. Spring was by now even further behind.
  • A record year for puffins nesting on the Farne Islands and Lundy.
  • The first ever record of a tawny owl on the island of Ireland at Castle Ward, Co Down attracted many bird watchers.
  • Bluebells were delayed by almost a month, not reaching their peak flowering until mid-May, whilst daffodils persisted well into May.


  • A welcome break to the cold, with a 10 day fine spell early on, although thereafter the weather was mixed.
  • A record year for nesting sandwich terns on Blakeney Point, Norfolk and for eider duck at Strangford Lough, Co Down.
  • Bitterns discovered nesting at Wicken Fen for the first time ever.
  • An orchid population explosion at Plas Newydd, Anglesey, from 20 in 2007 to almost 150,000 this year.


  • The sun returned at last with hot and sunny weather throughout July. The first hot summer month since 2006.
  • Butterflies appeared from nowhere, with a spectacular emergence of Purple Emperor in the woods. At the end of the month there were huge population explosions of Chalkhill blues on many downs, notably at Denbies Hillside, Surrey.
  • Tree bumblebees were visible everywhere, even in Borrowdale, North Cumbria.
  • Good numbers of rare Moss Carder bumblebee at Cwm Soden, Ceredigion.
  • The hot weather led to a dramatic increase in wasp numbers following last year’s lull


  • After an unsettled start, the highest temperatures of the year were recorded across South East England.
  • A very rare migrant butterfly, the Long-tailed Blue, established breeding colonies along the South East coast, particularly on the White Cliffs of Dover.
  • Cabbages were riddled with holes from myriad Cabbage White caterpillars.
  • Only a few 7-spot Ladybirds around.
  • Lots of crickets & grasshoppers with a record count of Wart-biter bush cricket on North Wiltshire downs. 


  • A combination of an abundance of the common autumn cranefly (daddy long legs), Tipula paludosa, and many moths was good news for hungry bats who feed up before mating and hibernation.
  • A good year for blackberries, although they arrived late as a knock-on from the cold spring.
  • The seal pupping season was a couple of weeks late because of the cold spring on the Farne Islands.
  • The cold spring and hot summer helped to produce some of the sweetest and most colourful apples for years, although it was the latest crop since 1985.


  • October was an unsettled month, concluding with the St Jude storm which hit southern parts of England and Wales on the 28th, ranking as one of the top ten most powerful storms in Southern England over the last 40 years.
  • Yellow-rumped warbler on Lundy brought over from North America by the storm.
  • A fantastic year for fungi in woods and rough fields, particularly in Saltram, Plymouth where a field full of mushrooms was the best in more than 40 years.
  • Dog’s Vomit Fungus (a slime mould) prominent in many woods and particularly common at Giant’s Causeway, North Antrim.
  • Fieldfares and redwing appeared early, on the 12th/13th in southern England, brought in by north-easterly gales.


  • A late but colourful autumn.
  • There was an abundance of most autumn berries, fruits, seeds and nuts in November, especially rowan berries. Good acorns, conkers, sloes & sweet chestnuts too. 
  • Deer in parks entered into the rut and winter well fed.
  • A good year for many mammals after a difficult start, especially for the pine marten which is spreading well in Northern Ireland and Scotland. 


  • The biggest North Sea storm surge for 60 years breached sea walls around wildlife sites, including at Blakeney, Norfolk, although most seal pups survived.
  • Plenty of Holly berries for Christmas.
  • A great year for mistletoe with an abundance of berries.

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