“Almost apocalyptic” weather threatens wildlife

The mesmerisingly awful weather’s impact on wildlife continues to make the news.

While Butterfly Conservation bravely publicise their Big Butterfly Count which their President David Attenborough launches, Butterfly expert Matthew Oates from the National Trust warns the “almost apocalyptic” summer weather could cause local extinctions of small isolated populations of butterflies and other species that depend on sunny or just dry conditions. Adult butterflies are obviously going to be very badly hit in a summer with so little sun, because they benefit from sunshine heating their wings to help them fly. Their caterpillars also suffer from being attacked by moulds in wet weather.

But it’s not all bad news – this year has been good for snails and slugs, according to the National Trust. Who would have thought it?

In case you thought this was the wettest summer ever, here are some weather trivia from this excellent website about the British (obsession with) weather.

July “1937 A very dull month. Torrential rain on St. Swithin’s Day (15th) as a result of thunderstorms over England. (I don’t know what happened for the next 40 days.) In some places it was described as the worst day in many years. It happened as a cold front moving in from the Atlantic met a depression rising coming north from the Bay of Biscay. Many places across the south recorded over 50mm. Waltham-on-the-Wolds (Leics.) had 145mm, Boston (Lincs.) had 137mm, and Pensford (Somerset) had 106mm. Further to the east downpours were more localised depending on where the thunderstorms were. Stanstead had 68mm. Three thunderstorms affected Bristol, causing double flooding. There was flooding in Weymouth. Traffic disruption, power cut off, lightning damage.”

“July 1233 The Summer Floods devastated much of southern Britain.”

” July 1816 “The year without a summer” – only 13.4C.”

“1888 Abnormally cold. There was a minimum of -3.3C at Ben Nevis on the 10th. Snow reported at various locations across Britain in the period 7-12th, particularly on the 11th as far south as Oxford and the Isle of Wight, although Philip Eden concludes that wet hail is more likely. The minimum temperature that night was about 6C at Kew. Six inches of snow were reported in the Scottish Highlands, which is a more plausible recording.”

In the past an awful summer would have meant wildlife populations suffered and numbers went down. But because wildlife was everywhere it was able to rapidly recolonise areas where local populations might have been wiped out by a freak weather event.

Not so now, where populations are often small and isolated. When a local butterfly population dies out there isn’t another population near enough to recolonise. Actually butterflies aren’t an especially good example because even some of the rare ones can disperse several miles. Truly sedentary species such as flightless or weakly-flying species of insect, or plants with large seeds, are the poorest at dispersal and these are the ones that suffer most when local extinctions happen.

Anyway look for the sun and if you see it get out, spot some butterflies and let BC know!

Miles King


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.
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