Is this really Spring?

The last week of hot weather has been great – long days in the garden and even a few hours on the beach – we humans love it!  But what effect is it having on our wildlife?  

 I live in the north Pennines at about 600 feet above sea level – so March is usually pretty cold and often with some snow on the ground.   However I spent most of last Saturday in my garden,  tidying up last year’s dead plant growth which we had left for insects over the winter months.  I was amazed to see so many butterflies and bumblebees are already out and about (and have been for several weeks).   But they are obviously struggling to find food (nectar and pollen) as there is very little in flower.  A few daffodils, a little lungwort and the odd daisy but not much else.  The small pussy willow which is flowering profusely was inundated with visiting insects, but some of these insect were clearly not adapted to feeding on it.

Are the plants anymore advanced in the countryside?  No is the simple answer – well at least up here in the north of England.  Having visited several of our grassland sites recently, there is little nectar and pollen on offer.   The grasslands are still being used for lambing (and what a great time for the lambs!) and will continue to be for the next months;  even on the ungrazed sites there is little to see in the way of flowers.  The hedgerows and shrubs which often provide a useful food source in the early spring are also not really showing much sign of flowering either.

I do not know what effect this will have in the longer-term on butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other nectar and pollen feeding insects – but those which have been drawn out by the current warm spell must be struggling.  Maybe a short-term issue, but how well will our wildlife adapt if this is a sign of things to come.  If lifecycles of insects and plants continue to diverge how will wildlife cope and will this lead to significant losses of some species, particularly those which are unable to disperse around the country? And what is the impact of our farming management on this – are we making things better or worse?  Even within our agri-environment schemes are we being flexible enough with grazing periods, shutting up dates for meadows and cutting?

Of course maybe things are about to return to normal and will soon be putting woolly jumpers back on –but spare a thought for those hungry insects who can’t just cover up the BBQ and retreat back to the kitchen!!

To finish, a snippet of news from our sites up here in the north east.   The number of grazing animals at Arcot Hall Grasslands continues to grow.  Flexigraze have brought six Highland cattle onto the site and already these seem at home and are starting to make inroads into the mat of dead grass which has built up over the past decade.  So hopefully over the coming months we will start to see improvements in the abundance and flowering of the flora on the site, which will also bring long-term benefits for a range of other wildlife.

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About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
This entry was posted in bees, grasslands, Grasslands Trust Nature Reserves, grazing, Paul Evans, pollinators, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Is this really Spring?

  1. ariwebmaster says:

    If it doesn’t rain, straw-coloured is the new green I guess.

  2. NatalieSCook says:

    It’s definitely spring in the south. I live on the back of a nature reserve so the trees are blossoming and the insects are out. I have been living overseas so this is my first spring in 4 years, it seems there are less butterflies than there used to be.

    This week is meant to be cold here – no snow for us – but I wonder how the insects will cope. I have seen lots of ‘grounded’ bees. Is this normal for them at this time of year? They are still alive but just very slow and unable to lift off.

    The hose pipe ban is in full force down here! Hoping for rain!

  3. Gill Perkins says:

    For NatalieSCook from Gill at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
    Hello Natalie – there maybe a few reasons why Bumblebees are on the ground:
    Bumblebees often fly in air temperatures as low as 10oC or lower, yet they cannot take off unless their flight muscles are above 30oC, and the temperature of the thorax during flight is maintained between 30o and 40o C regardless of ambient temperature. So how is this done? Well the hairs do provide some insulation, but to raise their temperature for flight they simply uncouple their wing muscles so that the wings themselves do not move, and use the muscles to shiver and raise their thorax temperature. Then when their thorax is warm enough they can fly. There is an excellent BBC video showing this. This is why you may find some grounded bumblebees during cold spells in the spring. These are often queens, and you can help them by feeding them (a saucer of 50%sugar and 50% water) or moving them somewhere warm.
    It may be they have just come out of hibernation and need time to warm up before they fly, generally Queens are weak when they emerge and need to build up a supply of food.
    If it is chilly or windy this may slow them down. wind will cause them not to want to open their wings.
    More unlikely is that they have a lot of mites on them. Bumblebees are covered in mites which do not actually harm Bees directly. In sufficient numbers they can make flight or even movement difficult.
    Hope this helps.

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