It has been a rather strange year. After another dry winter – March arrived and was one of the warmest and driest on record; consequently, many of us were threatened with restrictions (on hosepipes etc) as a severe drought threatened - many reservoirs were very low on water.
But then came April, which was one of the wettest recorded in the UK. Some 121.8 mm of rain fell, beating the previous record of 120.3 mm -which was set in 2000; some parts of the U.K. had three times the ‘normal’ amount of rainfall. June was also very wet and set a record. There then followed the wettest summer as a whole since 1912. The final rainfall figures for the year have been released and the total rainfall for the UK during 2012 was 1,330.7 mm (52.4in), just 6.6mm short of the record set in 2000.
The big winners in these wet conditions were slugs – including the giant Spanish super slug, or Spanish stealth slug that was reported to be invading gardens. These have an ‘enhanced’ breeding cycle producing many more eggs and offspring; they may also be the bearers of new diseases and parasites, which will kill off native species.
For many species of birds and butterflies, 2012 has been a poor year in reproductive terms. Birds, such as the chaffinch, whitethroat, and chiffchaff have struggled to produce fledglings. Even cuckoos failed to breed at Wicken Fen, which is unusual. Mammals, like water voles were flooded out of their burrows as river levels rose. Insects – especially butterflies and bees have had a bad time.
Bees and bumblebees struggle in rainy weather – they cannot forage, nor can they complete their nuptial dance – the queens mate on the wing. As they could not forage for pollen and nectar so the pollination of fruit crops has been affected; the heavy downpours of rain also had a deleterious effect on the blossom. There are also reports that the quality of fruits and vegetables has been affected - protein levels are lower, as well as the levels of copper, iron and zinc.
The production of honey in hives / nests / colonies has been dramatically affected – as bees have struggled to forage and find suitable flowers.
Among butterflies, common blues had a poor breeding season, as did the holly blue and the whites*. On the plus side, dragonflies seemingly did well, with 22 species being recorded at Scotney Castle, Kent. Plants, such as wild orchids, did well. Impressive displays were seen on the Norfolk Coast, around Blakeney, Stackpole Warren and on the Dunstable Downs.
But by September, the effects of weather on crops was noticeable with significant reductions in the yields from orchards – for example, the crop of russets was substantially down. And in October, the BBKA was reporting ”Average annual honey crop per hive down by 72 per cent compared to 2011”.
It has been an unusual year in terms of rainfall, hours of sunshine (or lack thereof), flooding etc; perhaps a harbinger of how our climate / weather is changing ? The longer term effects of such weather on our wildlife remains to be seen.
* though some have noted that there were enough large whites to do serious damage to their brassicas !