Much of county’s wildlife has weathered the storm
12:49 24 July 2012
Fears that an “apocalyptic” summer could prove disastrous for much of the UK’s wildlife this year have been allayed by Norfolk experts.
With conservationists warning that the cold, wet conditions had left many species of plants, animals and insects struggling, in Norfolk there has been a number of success stories.
With the avocets and lapwings at Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes having had “their best breeding season for well over a decade,” there has also been an unprecedented number of reports of one the nation’s rarest wild flowers – the bee orchid – flourishing across the county, with the largest number at one site in Norfolk for many years.
Last week The National Trust described the wet summer of 2012 as “almost apocalyptic” for British wildlife. They warned of local extinctions of vulnerable animals and plants and said that the outlook for some species next year is already bleak.
While the washout weather has left many bees, bats, birds, butterflies and wildflowers struggling, experts at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and the National Trust say the prolonged wet spell has upset the natural balance. This has meant that many species – including birds and dormice – are struggling to breed.
However, there have been some wildlife winners, including slugs and snails, which have thrived in the inclement weather. The rain has also been good for many trees, mosses and plants, with nettles, bracken and brambles all flourishing in the countryside.
David North, of Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said the national picture was not as bleak as was being portrayed.
“People may not like the rain but the impact of the summer that never was for wildlife is much more complex than simply saying it has been a disaster. In fact, at least in Norfolk, there have been winners as well as losers.
“Much of our wetland wildlife has actually been very happy to see water levels remaining high into spring and early summer.”
After the wettest April to June period on record, and a miserable start to July as heavy rain lashed the region, the sunshine arrived at the weekend to signal a brief summer spell.
Mr North added: “At NWT Cley Marshes, the avocets and lapwings have had their best breeding season for well over a decade. Judging by the unprecedented number of telephone calls in June to NWT to report bee orchids, this has been an exceptional year for this usually uncommon orchid.
“One site near Blakeney had around 5,000 bee orchids flowering in just a small area – a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle and the largest number at one site in Norfolk for many years,” he added.
“Rare natterjack toads have done well at a number of sites and in general amphibians, including newts, frogs and toads, have, perhaps unsurprisingly, prospered.”
Last week however, the National Trust’s conservation adviser, Matthew Oates, warned; “This is turning out to be an almost apocalyptic summer for most of our much loved wildlife – birds, butterflies, bees.
“So much so that the prospects for many of these in 2013 are bleak. Our wildlife desperately needs some sustained sunshine, particularly beneficial insects.”
But Mr North said: “Nature is complex and it is perilous to draw conclusions from a single season, however much we human beings may have disliked the rain!
“Conservation measures need to be based on long term population trends and while undoubtedly there have been losers, such as butterflies, this year, in the long run how well species fare depends much more on how habitats are managed and looked after than on unusual weather for a few months.
“Anyone remember that dry spell in March just before the hose-pipe ban came in?” he added. “Who knows, in August and September we may have a heatwave. “Given good quality habitats and proper protection many wildlife species cope surprisingly well with temporary extremes of weather, though when these become long term trends the impacts over many years can be massive.
“Extreme weather often has limited impacts but climate change has huge and lasting consequences for our native wildlife,” Mr North said.
The wet weather has impacted upon wildlife in Suffolk. Audrey Boyle, of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said: “The wet weather has certainly had an impact on our wildlife.
“We have a number of monitoring projects which are affected because we can’t simply can’t get out there.”
She said dormice and butterflies were suffering because insect numbers were falling.
“We are particularly worried about dormice, which is a shame because we have worked hard to re-introduce them into the county,” she added. “They are losing weight as they are unable to forage and find food, which has affected their breeding.”