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.