After six consecutive years in which awful weather had blighted the UK’s wildlife, 2013’s cheerful summer turned around the fortunes of flora and fauna across the country, an annual audit has found.
The heat of July and August was a particular fillip for insects that thrive in the warm, such as butterflies, moths, bees, crickets and grasshoppers, according to the National Trust, which publishes its report today of how the weather affected the natural world.
It flags up in particular the success of the tree bumblebee, which only started to colonise the UK in 2001 and has expanded its range considerably, even creeping into Scotland. But there is also good news for a range of mammals, birds and flowers from pine martens to puffins and orchids.
Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s naturalist, said: “We were more than overdue a good summer, and eventually we got a real cracker.
“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. We have seen more winners than losers in our wildlife year, which is a tremendous result, considering where we were last year.”
In the 2012 audit, the best that could be said was that it was a good year for slugs, which relish the damp, and for picnickers, who were not tormented by wasps. This time, the cold spring and hot summer meant slugs had a tougher time, a relief for gardeners. Another piece of reasonably good news for horticulturists was the scarcity of aphids, though on the other hand that meant birds such as tits and insects such as seven-spot ladybirds, which feed on aphids, lost a food source.
That chilly spring made life difficult for summer migrant birds such as swallows and martins, and resident species including some owls – especially the barn owl – lost out.
“2013 was one of the most remarkable wildlife years in living memory. Best of all, this year has set up 2014 very nicely,” Oates said.
A mild first half of the month, followed by 10 days of a 10-day cold, snowy spell.
A wonderful winter for waxwings, crested birds that overwinter in the UK
A dry but cold and grey February; the land dried out.
Snowdrops continued to flower for an unusually long period, slowed down by the cold weather.
Rooks began building nests mid-month and went on to have a hugely successful nesting season despite the weather. But it was a poor breeding year for chough on the Lizard in Cornwall 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 were 46% fewer of plants in bloom compared with last year.
The coldest March since 1962 – chillier than December, January or February.
The extreme cold weather stopped frogs breeding 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 all recovered later in the year and mostly went on to have successful breeding seasons.
It was a disastrous month for owls, especially barn owls, and many seabirds starved to death off the north-east coast.
April began with a cold drought, then became pleasant towards the middle of the month, but finished with a cool spell.
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 behind time.
A hard month 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 because of the shortage of nocturnal flying insects.