Conservationists are seeking the help of millions of holidaymakers heading to the coast this summer in a bid to solve the mystery of a disappearing butterfly.
Extreme weather in 2014 created an unpredictable rollercoaster of a year for our beleaguered wildlife and saw a raft of migrant species visiting our shores, say experts at the National Trust in their annual wildlife and weather round-up.
As a result of the warm, often wet summer, this year’s wildlife winners include biting flies, slugs and snails. More positively, many resident birds, mammals and amphibians also had good breeding seasons, although the picture is patchy and localised.
The year, however, will be most remembered for the winter storms in January and February; indicating the challenges that the natural world could face with the growing extremes of weather some of which may be caused by climate change.
National Trust rangers looking after the 742 miles of coastline cared for by the charity across England, Wales and Northern Ireland witnessed several years’ worth of erosion, while inland many of the Trust’s gardens and parklands suffered their greatest tree losses in almost 30 years.
Little terns along the Norfolk coast at Blakeney had to nest in low areas as a result of severe tidal surges which changed the beach profile. High tides followed in mid-June and flooded the seabirds’ nests resulting in a very poor breeding season.
As Butterfly Conservation releases its results from the Big Butterfly Count, National Trust’s Matthew Oates, looks at some of the highlights.
It was great to learn from Butterfly Conservation’s speedy analysis of the 2014 Big Butterfly Count data that the Small Tortoiseshell is continuing to recover. It is the quintessential garden butterfly, one of the nation’s favourites – but we took it for granted until it inexplicably started to nose-dive during the early noughties.
Bee-eaters nesting on the Isle of Wight have raised eight chicks – the most successful breeding attempt by these birds, normally found in the Mediterranean, on record in the UK.
Three chicks have now fledged from one nest, on National Trust land, and another five chicks have fledged from a second nest.
An adult bee-eater was first spotted at Wydcombe on 15 July by National Trust dragonfly survey volunteer Dave Dana. And chicks were first sighted a month later on the 15 August. There were originally thought to be nine chicks but one has not survived.
Dave Dana, a National Trust Volunteer on the Isle of Wight, said: “I’d just come from counting golden-ringed dragonflies at a stream and I thought ‘that bird looks a bit different!’
“Its flight path seemed almost triangular. I didn’t really appreciate the bird until I got home and looked at the photos. I’d always wanted to see a bee-eater in this country but I never thought it would turn out to be a major wildlife event.”
Matthew Oates, Nature and Wildlife expert for the National Trust, reflects on the weather so far this year and looks at how it has affected our wildlife.
“This winter was one of the stormiest on record and the wettest since 1766. Despite this, it was also the mildest winter in more than 100 years
Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s National Specialist on Nature, looks back at the year’s weather so far and asks what’s in store for us this summer:
“This winter was one of the stormiest on record, with a succession of powerful storms hitting our shores from 23 December right through until 24 February. So much so, in fact, that in England and Wales it was the wettest winter since 1766.
New research has revealed that some of the country’s favourite woodland places have seen their biggest loss of trees in a generation as a result of the extreme winter weather.
More than 50 National Trust sites have been surveyed with many gardeners, rangers and foresters saying that the losses of trees has been the greatest in more than two decades and in some cases the Great Storm of October 1987.
High winds and extreme weather throughout the winter have seen some places lose hundreds of trees, including many valued ancient trees.
The National Trust cares for 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It looks after many world famous trees including Newton’s Apple Tree at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire and the tree at Runnymede in Surrey where the Magna Carta was signed.
Many of the trees that have been lost have blown over rather than snapped off due to the saturated ground conditions. However the big picture varies, with some places seeing little damage, and unlike the storms of 1987 and 1990, nowhere has been devastated.
Matthew Oates, National Trust Specialist on Nature & Wildlife, said: “People love and need trees, and the loss of specimen trees in gardens and parks, and of ancient beeches and oaks in the woods and wider countryside hurts us all, and damages much wildlife. We value and venerate these old sentinels and need to become increasingly aware of the power of the weather.
“Increased storminess, and increased extreme weather events generally, are likely to stress trees further, especially veteran trees. We will have to think carefully about where we establish trees and what species we plant.”
The Killerton Estate in Devon has suffered some of the biggest losses, with more than 500 trees blown over by the storms, including 20 significant trees within the design landscape.
Many other specimen trees in gardens and parks have been blown over or badly damaged, particularly in South West England and in Wales. However many gardens outside the West have also suffered, such as Tatton Park, south of Manchester, Attingham Park near Shrewsbury, Nymans in Sussex and Scotney Castle in Kent.
A few historically or regionally important trees have been lost, such as a rare black walnut at Hatfield Forest, which was the largest in Essex.
Sometimes ‘wind blow’ in woods presents a good opportunity for natural recolonisation by pioneer species such as ash and sallows.
Alan Power, Head Gardener at Stourhead in Wiltshire, said: “Over the past three or four weeks we’ve lost 20 trees in the garden, with up to 400 across the wider estate.
“We’ve lost one spectacular oak tree, which could well be between two hundred and two hundred and fifty years old and planted by the man who created the landscape garden at Stourhead.
“Storms like we’ve seen this winter are all part of the estate’s history. If people can come along and they do see the trees on the ground they’ll realise it’s not just a one off, it happens throughout the history of the estate and it is part of working so closely with nature.”
Matthew Oates added: “As people venture out this spring, they will still be able to see these fantastic places, but a few old friends may be missing or lying down providing interesting wildlife habitats.
“Our teams are working hard to keep access to our gardens and parkland open by clearing any fallen trees from footpaths.”
Examples of tree losses across National Trust places:
Trengwainton Garden in Cornwall – Around 30 trees have been lost, namely from the shelterbelt that surrounds the garden. To date, more than 1000 hours have been spent clearing up the storm damage, with more work still required.
Trelissick in Cornwall –Lost three old lime trees, several mature oak and two very large scots pine in the park
Stourhead in Wiltshire – Up to 400 trees lost across the wider estate, including a 200-year-old oak.
Mottisfont and New Forest in Hampshire – There has been a loss of up to 300 trees across three main areas of wind-blown woodland. In addition to this there have been a number of scattered trees across roads and rivers.
Selborne and Ludshott Commons in Hampshire – Lost around 300 trees, which will require three months clean-up work.
Ashridge in Hertfordshire – Full details not yet known, but a number of ancient and veteran trees have been lost, including a large ash and five pollards in Frisden beeches and in excess of 100 birch trees.
Croft Castle and Parkland in Herefordshire – Lost around 40 trees including a chestnut from the chestnut avenue.
Osterley Park in Middlesex – Lost three 250-300 year old English oaks, two 150 year old cedar of Lebanon and a 100 year old sycamore
Hatfield Forest in Essex – Lost 18th century black walnut and 250 year old oak along with a lot of superficial damage to trees and some structural damage to pollards
Penbryn in Ceredigion – Lost a 5.2m girth ash, which is an exceptionally old ash tree
Castle Ward in County Down – Up to 70 trees have come down over the last few months as a result of the strong winds, including 8 significant trees.