February 29, 2024

The disappearance of reliable seasonal patterns is wreaking havoc on the UK’s flora and fauna, a long-running annual audit of the impact of weather on nature has found.

Extreme weather conditions, from storms and pounding rain to scorching heat and drought, put great pressure on animals, plants and the environment, the report of the National Trust say.

The conservation organization is calling on politicians to prioritize “urgent action” to protect nature and people from future climate shocks and says parties must commit to making changes in their manifestos for the next UK general election.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “The changing weather patterns we are seeing, particularly the warmer temperatures, continue to disrupt the natural, regular rhythm of the seasons. This loss of predictability causes chaos for animals’ behavior in particular, but can also affect trees and plants.”

The National Trust has given a long list of species that have suffered in the past 12 months, including oaks, which are increasingly vulnerable to the oak processionary moth, whose caterpillars harass them. The lack of prolonged cold in recent years means the moths have spread northwards from their traditional home in the Mediterranean.

Another trouble maker that does well is the heath beetle, which kills parts of the heather plant in some areas. A drone survey of Dunwich Heath in Suffolk revealed a 60% loss in heather.

The warmer winters mean hibernators like dormice come out of torpor too early and use up vital energy stores. It also results in red deer that later develop rust, meaning calves are born in the summer rather than the spring, with insufficient time to grow and put on fat reserves to survive.

According to the trust, some of the rare lichens and liverworts that grow in the temperate rainforest are at Lydford Gorge, perished on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon from the lack of water last winter.

But then water voles were driven out of flooded holes when the downpours came in, putting them at greater risk of cold, hunger and predation.

McCarthy, said: “These baseline changes we’re seeing are really worrying and something we need to take more notice of, especially when combined with extreme weather events, which make things even more challenging.

The autumn storms, babet and Ciarancausing havoc, knocking down trees including a 260-year-old cedar of Lebanon at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire and eroding riverbanks and beaches.

One of the consequences of the storm that has just come to light is the possible impact on the population of the shagsthe seabirds that look similar to cormorants that live and breed on the Farne Islands in Northumberland. There are rare birds in the wintering grounds on the islands, with a number of dead birds washed up on the islands. Babet is thought to have disrupted their ability to feed and led to starvation.

There were bits of bright news. Record numbers – at least for recent years – of teals have been spotted in Cornwall with a 60% increase in the number of chicks by 2022. The elegant crow is a symbol of Cornwall but has become extinct and is on the rise again.

At Formby in Merseyside, In May, rangers recorded the first appearance of backjack toads since 2020 with around 150 counted across the site.

The rare black oil beetle was spotted at Kinver Edge in Staffordshire for the first time in nine years. The sandy soil there suits burrowing insects such as solitary bees, on whose nests and eggs the oil beetle feeds.

Persistent rain in July and the warm, wet conditions that continued into the fall were ideal for washgrass field fungi. One, the dark velvet fan was found at Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshireits first record in the UK.

Butterflies and moths generally had a better year than expected, considering last year’s drought. Staff have recorded record numbers of the Heath fritillary butterfly on the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor in Somerset.

But the charity’s audit, which it has been carrying out for 15 years, makes generally grim reading.

“We need to see more action from politicians, especially as we enter this election year, to ensure that tackling the nature and climate crisis is a top priority,” McCarthy said.

“We want to see parties commit to accelerating progress on nature recovery, increasing support for nature-based solutions to climate change and putting climate adaptation at the heart of their manifestos, so the UK can be better prepared for the weather extremes we increasingly face experience.”

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