Wildlife ‘struggling’ with warm weather and changing climate
- Credit: Archant
Dormice, hedgehogs, butterflies and bumble bees among species affected by unseasonable temperatures.
The unseasonably warm weather has caused numerous wildlife species to emerge early but experts have warned it could lead to a “crisis” for nature – particularly if it turns cold again, as it did last year.
Earlier this week the warmest UK winter day on record - 21.2°C - was logged at Kew Gardens in London while the mercury nudged 16°C in Suffolk - both a far cry from last year’s Beast from the East weather front from Russia, which happened exactly a year ago and resulted in temperatures plummeting well below zero.
Over the past days, the RSPB has received a number of reports about birds attempting to nest and breed, butterflies emerging, hedgehogs, reptiles and insects coming out of hibernation and even migrant birds like swallows and house martins appearing back in the west of the country much earlier than they should.
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“While the warm weather, bright sunshine and abundant sights and sounds of nature undoubtedly make us all feel better, they should also ring alarm bells,” said Martin Harper, the wildlife charity’s director of global conservation.
“The early signs of spring are likely down to climate change, which is bad news for us all. As we expect the weather to return to temperatures more traditionally associated with this time of year – as they are forecast to – then there could be a real crisis for our birds, insects and other wildlife.”
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It’s a point echoed by Martin Sandford, manager at the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service Team.
“There’s been an unprecedented number of butterfly species sighted for this time of year,” he said.
“Six different butterflies species have been seen including a large white, which is not normally out until April. You expect brimstones to appear early, and peacocks and small tortoiseshell butterflies over winter here - but it’s the species that are not adapted for early spring that are a concern. If it goes cold again - they will be wiped out. It just seems such a waste.”
Lack of food
Mr Sandford said a lack a food for creatures emerging early was also an issue.
He added: “We have also seen more bumble bees emerge than we would expect - the problem is they are going to struggle in terms of finding nectar. Some wild plums have blossomed - but the pussy willow, which is an important source of nectar for the bumble bee, hasn’t come out yet.”
At the Essex Wildlife Trust, project officer Darren Tansley said he is concerned how hibernating mammals, such as dormice, hedgehogs and bats might cope, if warmer winters become a trend over the long term.
“Hibernators do need cold weather to trigger the hibernation process,” he said.
“If they are awake for longer towards the end of the year, they will still be active and won’t store up enough energy and fat reserves to see them through – and if they do wake up early, there won’t be the food about – like fruits and insects.”
“It’s a double whammy for dormice – because they are active later into the year, some are starting to have second litters. Having them so late means the young haven’t put on enough weight before it gets cold while the mother has to try and feed them when she should be building herself up.”
Mr Tansley added: “If this pattern [of warmer winters] continues and unless our environment adapts quickly and we start to see insects and plants providing reliable food sources, it may be that we will lose some species.
“At the same time, we might gain some species. We have already seen some species, like the tree bumble bee and willow emerald damselfly, have made their way here and are thriving, as they are adapted to a continental type of weather system.”