Fluctuating extreme temperatures ranging from an arctic -14 degrees centigrade to a sizzling +35 have resulted in a roller-coaster year for wildlife, says the National Trust.
The prolonged, harsh end to the winter in February and March with the ‘Beast from the East’, mild May and sunny, hot weather in June and July resulted in wildlife reacting in an extraordinary way with some having record years and others struggling.
As one of the largest landowners in the UK, the conservation charity is responsible for a huge amount of habitats and wildlife.
This was a record year for the rare large blue butterfly with numbers reaching a peak, not just in the south west, but globally[, a good year for bats, including the rare horseshoe bats[ and there has been an abundance of fruit and fungi.
There was also unexpected movement by certain species either with numbers increasing dramatically – such as the migrant silver y moth seen in its highest ever numbers at Mount Stewart in Northern Ireland – or species arriving in new places, such as the dark green fritillary, also recorded at Mount Stewart.
The hawfinch success story continued with numbers of this rare and elusive finch reaching their peak with 400 birds spotted in Sussex and 600 in Surrey during March.
At the other end of the scale, the sudden cold snap at the end of February resulted in a massive kill of invertebrates on the east coast with thousands of shellfish (including lobsters) starfish and fish washed up with many birds also suffering badly including guillemots, shags, fulmar and kittiwakes.
Nettle feeding butterflies such as the small tortoiseshell, red admiral and comma also suffered despite the good weather, which could be because they were targeted by parasites and pesticides, or affected by climate change.
Dr David Bullock, head of species and habitat conservation at the National Trust said: “This year’s unusual weather does give us some indication of how climate change could look and feel, irrespective of whether this year’s was linked to climate change.
“It’s becoming less predictable every year to gauge what sort of weather we are likely to experience, and what this means for our wildlife.
“We need to ensure that we continue to look after the land in our care and work with others to create joined up areas of the countryside, in effect nature corridors, to enable wildlife to move around easily if needed, to survive any type of weather.
“This is something that we are aiming to do more of with our ambition to create 25,000 hectares of new, high-quality habitat by re-purposing 10 per cent of our land by 2025.”