A review of 2014: the year of the biting fly

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.

Birling Gap, Credit National Trust

Birling Gap, Credit National Trust

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.

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Biting Times…

Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s Nature and Wildlife Expert, explains how the hot, wet summer is affecting our biting flies:

Anyone who has been loitering in woods or by the waterside these last few weeks will have been eaten alive by biting flies. The Common Cleg (with just one g) Haematopota pluvialis, the smallest and commonest of our 30 or so native horse flies, has been unusually numerous this summer. Ask any horse owner, or horse. The females of these sleek grey beasts have a penchant for human blood. One scratch and the bite swells up.  Do not scratch it!

Trees in July at Dyffryn Gardens, South Glamorgan.Also abundant this summer is the Common Brown Horsefly Tabanus bromius. Park with open windows in a shady woodland car park on a hot day and your car will quickly fill up with them. Mercifully, they are more interested in horse or deer than man flesh. The biting fly equivalent of the Dalek is the Common Deer Fly Chrysops caecutiens, a piebald, triangular-shaped assassin with psychedelic eyes. It attacks the softest skin, usually eye lids – but flies round your head for several minutes before attempting to land, so you have to be seriously otherwise engaged to get bitten.  But yes, it’s also quite numerous this summer.

These beasts all breed in damp soil, or mud, in shady places. They abound during warm, wet summers – and this is a hot, wet summer. They’re having a fantastic time! Water tables have remained high, following the wet winter (so there’s little prospect of trees or shrubs suffering from drought this year). Also, most districts have been regularly topped up by periods of rain.

The puddles haven’t dried up. This means that the mosquitoes are also doing nicely, and may yet appear in greater numbers. They breed in warm, shallow water. Most people get bitten by ‘mossies’ in bed, on warm summer nights when bedroom windows are open.

Thunderbugs (or thrips) and flying ants have also put in appearances. The former are Visitors at Stourhead, Wiltshire, in September.plant feeders, but they make us itch like mad and somehow inveigle their way into computer screens and behind picture glass. Like flying ants, they’re creatures of hot harvest time weather. Worker wasps are just starting to appear, and may become numerous if the hot weather continues.

But all these creatures are symptomatic of a hot summer, and we are having
a hot summer. Don’t let them detract from your enjoyment of the sunshine – but remember your insect repellent and bite creams, and above all Never Scratch A Bite: it makes it far worse.



Weather and wildlife – a review of the year so far


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

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22,000 people celebrate summer solstice at Stonehenge and Avebury

Over 22,000 people gathered to celebrate the coming of the summer solstice at National Trust Stonehenge Landscape and Avebury on Friday morning. The weather surpassed all expectations to create a beautiful sunset and clear evening, however low cloud came in over night obscuring the sunrise at 4:52 am.

Within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, the National Trust manages 827 hectares (2,100 acres) of downland surrounding the famous stone circle. The stone circle itself is owned and managed by English Heritage.

Jan Tomlin, General Manager of Stonehenge and Avebury mentioned:

“We celebrate solstice twice a year in this country, both in June and December.

“Our role at Stonehenge is supporting English Heritage who expected something in the region of 30,000 visitors to come across our land.”

“We have a whole team of volunteers to help people get across the land safely and to make sure they have the best evening possible.”

Meet some of the National Trust team making the Stonehenge summer solstice possible this year.