Mild winter in UK endangers some butterflies and burrowers | Wildlife


Butterflies, hedgehogs and bats are at risk as the unusually mild weather for the season disrupted hibernation in the UK and caused spring flowers to bloom in January.

Climate change is disrupting the seasons, and this year has been a particularly mild winter, with trees not dropping their fall leaves and others bursting into fresh leaves and blooming months earlier. This New Years Eve is expected to be the mildest on record, with temperatures expected to reach 15C in parts of the country – double the average temperature for this time of year.

This could have devastating effects for the creatures who depend on the rhythm of the seasons to survive.

While a low-pressure system is causing the unusual heat, experts say increases in the background temperature caused by climate change are making the problem worse.

Grahame Madge, Met Office spokesperson for climate, said: “The unusual heat that will characterize the New Year is caused by a low pressure system drawing warm air further south of the Atlantic. While this would still have created conditions relatively warmer than average, with around 1 ° C of background warming, it is possible that climate change will bring the event to a point that calls into question previously held records.

He said it could cause the butterflies to die when they come out of hibernation too early before enough food is available, especially since a deadly cold snap later could strike.

Madge said: “Periods of abnormal heat during winter can encourage species to come out of hibernation. Butterflies such as red admirals and small tortoiseshell tortoises and other insects may be particularly at risk as they can emerge largely without access to vital food sources like nectar. If the heat wave is followed by a return to colder conditions, the hibernating individuals will have exhausted their precious energy reserves without being able to replace them, possibly with disastrous consequences.

The unusually warm weather was confusing for the hibernating mammals, who awoke from their sleep early. This could be fatal for creatures, including hedgehogs, who wake up without enough food to feed them until spring.

Kathryn Brown, Director of Climate Action for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Our climate is changing, which impacts entire ecosystems as well as individual species. Global warming affects reproductive cycles, food availability and behaviors, including hibernation. Unusually mild temperatures mean that some species may temporarily emerge from hibernation more often in the winter, which is problematic if there is insufficient food to make up for the extra energy used. We know hedgehogs are at increased risk and we need more research to understand the effects on other hibernating species such as bats and dormice.

Horticulturalists have noticed that the roses bloomed all winter, much like in more Mediterranean climates, and the colorful spring flowers are already blooming in British gardens.

Matthew Pottage, Curator of the Wisley Garden at the Royal Horticultural Society, said: “There are both advantages and disadvantages of the current mild weather for plants and gardens. Out of season plants like roses, for example, will continue to bloom, and springtime plants like magnolia will likely start flowering earlier than normal, bringing a welcome splash of color to gardens early in the season. next year if the weather is mild continue. “

Gardeners and farmers greatly missed the pest-killing frosts. Some fungi and insects now thrive year round.

Pottage said: “The lack of a cold snap will allow exotic plant varieties to continue to thrive, but the downside is that gardeners will continue to encounter garden pests until severe frosts arrive to kill them. . “

Experts from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) are asking gardeners to chronicle the unusually early blooms in their garden. It has become a growing phenomenon as the seasons become more confused.

Louise Marsh, BSBI, said: “We’ve seen reports on social media of flowering plants right now that have raised some eyebrows… I think we’ll see a similar pattern in previous years – hundreds of species. in bloom.”

“However, this is not a simple story of everything that blooms early. We typically find that about half of flowering species are “fall stragglers” that have managed to keep flowering because they weren’t repelled by severe frosts; about a quarter are all-season plants (typical urban “weeds” like groundsel, shepherd’s purse, dandelion, and daisy) and some winter specialists like winter heliotrope; about a quarter are these spring flowers, such as primrose and lesser celandine, that bloom early.

There are concerns about the impacts on pollinators if the flowers bloom before they have a chance to enjoy the nectar, and on migratory birds that feed on the fruit and have not yet arrived.


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