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National Trust sounds alarm for wildlife after disrupted weather patterns of 2023





2023 is expected to be declared the warmest year on record - and 2024 is forecast to be warmer still.

The National Trust has sounded the alarm for UK wildlife as climate change disrupts weather patterns and traditional seasonal shifts.

Submerged trees at Ilam Park in Derbyshire. Picture: National Trust
Submerged trees at Ilam Park in Derbyshire. Picture: National Trust

East Anglia was in drought for more than 12 months, until September, with a dry start to the year not helping last year’s low rainfall.

The UK then recorded its warmest ever June, while July was the hottest month recorded globally - 1.5C warmer than average, with global air and ocean surface temperatures also setting all-time records.

Autumn proved both warmer and wetter than average, with huge levels of rainfall, particularly in October, with some catchments in the East of England recording 366 per cent of their long-term average rainfall, and 12 catchments recording their wettest ever since 1871. There were two extreme weather events in the season - Storm Babet followed by Storm Ciaran, causing serious flooding in some parts of the country.

Ben McCarthy, head of nature and restoration ecology at the National Trust, said: “The shifting weather patterns we’re seeing in the UK, particularly with the warmer temperatures we’re experiencing is continuing to upset the natural, regular rhythm of the seasons, causing stress to wildlife and making it more susceptible to pests and disease.

“This loss of predictability causes chaos for the annual behaviours of animals in particular, but can also impact trees and plants.

“The warmer year-round temperatures are resulting in shorter winters which could have particularly devastating impacts for trees – with cold snaps just not long enough to kill off diseases such as oak processionary moth, whose caterpillars infest oak trees, leaving them vulnerable to other threats. The spread northwards through Europe from their traditional home in the Mediterranean is a tangible consequence of our warming climate.

It was a good year locally for marbled white butterflies. Picture: National Trust
It was a good year locally for marbled white butterflies. Picture: National Trust

“Warmer winters could also impact our heathlands, allowing the heather beetle to take hold, killing off huge swathes of heather.

“It also impacts hibernators like dormice, which may emerge from torpor (hibernation) early using up vital energy stores, and red deer may leave rutting to later, meaning calves are born in the summer rather than the spring, with insufficient time to grown and put on fat reserves to survive cold snaps.

“It’s these baseline changes that we’re seeing that are really worrying and what we should be taking more notice of, particularly when combined with extreme weather events, which makes things even more challenging.”

Rangers and gardeners at the trust say they are now mowing grass until late November as warmer and wetter conditions mean grass is not ‘shutting down’ for winter.

Some shrubs are also budding for a second time or coming into bloom early, which makes them susceptible to cold snaps and reduces flowering in spring and summer.

This rare tuberous thistle at Wimpole was spotted in 2023 - the first since 2014. Picture: National Trust Images / Chris Annesley
This rare tuberous thistle at Wimpole was spotted in 2023 - the first since 2014. Picture: National Trust Images / Chris Annesley

The trust has been working on making its landscapes more resilient and adaptable to such shifts.

It was a mast year for nuts and berries, but the trust said this prolific fruiting is a sign of trees being under stress due to the dry weather – a hangover still from 2022 and the dry start to the year.

In terms of species, there were winners – like choughs, beavers and natterjack toads – and losers – such as seabirds, red deer and mosses and liverworts.

Locally, it proved a good year for butterflies on the Wimpole estate, with a massive influx in marbled whites and meadow browns, along with numerous Jersey tiger moths - which were further north than usual.

At Anglesey Abbey, the team saw an increase in some butterfly species including marbled whites, tortoiseshell, holly blues, large whites, green veined whites and there was a new arrival - the small heath butterfly.

The small heath butterfly was a new arrival at Anglesey Abbey. Picture: National Trust
The small heath butterfly was a new arrival at Anglesey Abbey. Picture: National Trust

There was also an explosion in box moth caterpillars at Anglesey Abbey, impacting the box hedging around the property, which may have to be replaced in future years.

Meanwhile, a very rare tuberous thistle (Cirsium tuberosum) was also found at Wimpole - the first there since 2014. It has had numerous reintroductions, as it once existed here naturally, but was eventually declared extinct in the region. The Wimpole Estate is the only place this plant exists in the region now, and in the UK, the plant only exists here, in Wiltshire and Glamorgan.



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