This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
NATURE NOTES


All Change W


By Tim Sharrock What an extraordinary winter and spring we have just experienced.


ETTEST. WINDIEST. DRIEST. COLDEST. HOTTEST. ALL THESE WORDS HAVE BEEN APPLIED TO PERIODS OF THE PAST SIX MONTHS. INDEED,


REPORTS OF THE SPRING WERE ALSO SCATTERED WITH THE WORD ‘EARLIEST,’ THIS APPLYING TO FLOWERING OF MANY OF OUR WILD FLOWERS AND THE APPEARANCE OF BUTTERFLIES AND OTHER INSECTS, NOT JUST SINGLY, BUT IN SOME NUMBERS.


Species to be expected in late April appeared in March or even late February. The Strawberry Farm at Aspley Guise, for instance, reported that cherry blossom there was two to three weeks earlier than usual this year. Statistical tests are not needed to demonstrate that climate change is a fact and not a figment of climatologists’ imaginations. The effects on wildlife can sometimes be direct, but many are far more complicated, involving several different organisms. For instance, early leaf development of a plant (e.g. Oak) may trigger early appearance of the insects that feed on its foliage (many caterpillars), so that they are not available as food when the young of another species (e.g. Blue Tits) appear a few weeks later and usually rely on those insects for food.


This sort of interaction may especially affect migrant birds, since those coming from Africa south of the Sahara will not have experienced the climate change affecting Europe, and the timing of their arrival will depend upon events in the Southern Hemisphere. Animals and plants can adjust to such changes, and have done so in the past, over innumerable generations, but, when the changes take place more quickly, adjustment via evolution may not keep pace. Although the reasons may be debated, the accelerating rate of change at the present day cannot be denied.


The changes in Britain’s wildlife in my lifetime have been staggering. Never did anyone suspect that they could occur so quickly and so dramatically. Nowadays merely scarce migrants, Wrynecks and Red-backed Shrikes were still breeding here regularly when I was at school. Cirl Buntings, now confined to Devon and Cornwall, bred as far north as Cheshire. On the other hand, the Little Egret was the rarest of the herons, with just a handful of British records, but now one can hardly make a car trip anywhere without seeing one in a field or ditch or lakeside spot. In days gone by, the tinkling song of a Willow Warbler was everywhere in spring, but they are now much scarcer, replaced largely by the more-southern Chiffchaff. The Mediterranean Gull was virtually unknown in the United


Kingdom sixty years ago, but is now not ‘common as muck,’ but occurring in flocks and breeding in colonies of tens or even hundreds. These are just a sample of the gigantic changes that have occurred in just a few decades. Reduced persecution has probably led to the surge in numbers of raptors, with circling Common Buzzards ‘everywhere,’ the Hobby far commoner, and secretive Goshawks established in many woodlands. Red Kites have been successfully re-established (and aren’t they a glorious sight?), as have White-tailed Eagles in Scotland. Ospreys and Avocets are other success stories for the RSPB, having spread naturally far beyond their original highly protected sites at Loch Garten in Speyside and Havergate Island in Suffolk. Although they have not disappeared, declines in many farmland species numbers have been attributed to modern, more efficient, cleaner farming practices, with less wastage of grain, fewer ‘weed’ seeds, fewer ‘pests’ (which would be food for nestlings) and less unploughed winter stubble. Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, Chaffinches and Linnets have all declined as a result. Fewer orchards may have depleted the Bullfinch population, and the maturing of young conifer plantations may have resulted in the decline of Redpolls. Added to climate change, these man-made changes have had dramatic effects on the status of some bird species - some positive and some negative.


These have been exciting times for the scientists -


professional and amateur - who have monitored the changes through regular, carefully documented counts. Anyone with an interest in wildlife can contribute. Just contact your local natural history society or the British Trust for Ornithology or Butterfly Conservation (or any of a score of other specialist groups). They all have websites these days, and they all welcome offers of help.


SUMMER - WILDLIFE PUZZLE: Question: What do these creatures have in common: a finch with overlapping mandibles that is the largest of three closely related species all of which nest in Scotland; a summer visitor with a purring song; a wildfowl with call resembling a small dog, and a black bill, neck and breast; a Middle-Eastern wader that nests in a tunnel and resembles an Avocet but with a straight, shorter, thick bill; a fast-running, bright-green and coppery predatory insect. (Answer below)


44 County Life


www.countylifemagazines.co.uk


Answers. Their English names include the names of another animal (PARROT Crossbill; TURTLE Dove, BARNACLE Goose; CRAB Plover ; TIGER Beetle)


Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68