Saturday, 7 July 2012

a disastrous year..?

As I write, the weather forecast is for some parts of the English midlands to receive a months rain in 24 hours. Following fourteen months of drought, we have now had the wettest June on record.

Now, of course our little island has always had changeable weather - and this is why weather watching is a national pastime. But these weather extremes are becoming more frequent with consequences for us all.

And although we humans suffer during weather extremes, I fear that our wildlife is suffering more.

Linda has reported on the problems that this dismal spell of weather has had for the Cordwood honeybees. The cold wet weather has prevented bees from foraging and the same conditions have brought flowering to a halt. As a consequence honeybee colonies have been unable to collect pollen to feed their larvae or nectar which is the energy that drives the hive and makes the honey.

I know that this year the Cordwood site has been hammered by our building work, but nevertheless, I have recorded almost no summer butterflies yet, apart from a few speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) and an odd peacock (Inarchis io).

Tonight we will be recording moths on site with our friend John Osborne and Dr Sheila Wright. I hope that this recording can become a regular part of the Cordwood calendar in the years ahead. Routine species recording allows us to build an accurate picture of how our wildlife is doing and without this accurate data, we cannot understand population fluctuations or take arguments forward about changes affecting wildlife. Frequently overlooked and woefully under-recorded, moths do not have the same 'wow' factor for many people that ospreys or red kites have. But their numbers and distribution need to be more widely understood. I predict that our 2012 Cordwood count will be a low one. Although moths fly during rain, they will have had the same problems with food sources that butterflies have had. There just won't be as many around.

The arcane and under-recorded world of moths means that we have little idea of what we will record tonight. A highlight would be to record the rare Pauper Pug moth (Eupithecia egenaria). Although scarce, its larvae feed on lime tree leaves and we have five beautiful mature limes in our orchard/vegetable garden and two more in the cedar walk. I have taken this photo of a Pauper Pug from the UK moths site with their permission.

Our native wildlife has been buffeted by our variable weather since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago and so why is a bit of wet weather so potentially disastrous?

In the past, a poor breeding season has seen a reduction in populations, but the following year, the gaps have been filled by an influx from adjoining areas. An excellent breeding year has often followed as competition has been reduced and the best sites have been available.

In twenty first century Britain we have so 'developed' our landscape, so destructed so much of the vegetation and habitat for wildlife and fragmented populations to such an extent that that populations are in danger of becoming locally extinct after poor breeding seasons. When a poor year occurs, there are no other nearby populations to fill the gaps. This then becomes part of a remorseless fall in the wealth of our native fauna that sees reductions year on year...

Tonight we are thinking about moths and the reduction in their numbers. But I will also be taking my bat detector during our moth watch in the hope that I can record the local bat population. Of course, a reduction in moth numbers affects those creatures higher up the food chain who depend upon moths for food like bats. Poor weather and insufficient food  ... not a great year for bats either?

So, this wet weather has led to a dismal early summer for us humans, but potentially something far worse for wildlife. 

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