Warm 2013 a boon for British wildlife

Climate Change
by Daniel James Devine
Posted 12/31/13, 02:10 pm

It was a good year to be an animal in Great Britain, according to a U.K. conservation charity. In a report on Monday, the National Trust called 2013 “one of the most remarkable wildlife years in living memory.”

The reason? A hot July and August broke a streak of milder, wet summers. Following an unusually rainy 2012 that decimated U.K. butterfly populations, 2013 brought the warmest, driest, and sunniest summer to the country in seven years, helping insects thrive. While some environmentalists blame warm temperatures for harming polar bear habitats, hot summers deserve credit for boosting wildlife.

“The winners of the year were warmth-loving insects, particularly butterflies, moths, bees, crickets, and grasshoppers,” said the National Trust report. “The distinctive tree bumblebee, which only started to colonize in the U.K. in 2001, expanded considerably, crossing north of Hadrian’s Wall for the first time.”

Matthew Oates, the organization’s wildlife expert, noted how this year’s warm, dry summer served as an antidote to last year’s rainy one: “The way our butterflies and other sun-loving insects bounced back in July was utterly amazing, showing nature’s powers of recovery at their best.”

It was a record year for nesting Sandwich terns in several regions, the group said, and the long-tailed blue, a rare migratory butterfly, established breeding colonies along the British coast. Grasses, orchids, and spring flowers like primrose and bluebell also grew well, along with apples and blackberries, although they arrived late.

“Autumn color was boosted further by the excellent array of fungi, which thrived on the hot summer conditions that arrived without the accompanying drought,” the report said. November saw an “abundance of most autumn berries, fruits, seeds, and nuts,” and deer entered winter well-fed.

One sour spot of the year was that some British bird populations suffered, like swallows, martins, and owls. But that was due to a late spring and record-cold March.

The U.K. wildlife boost is consistent with other studies showing that habitats often increase alongside temperatures. A 2011 study of Texas birds found the breeding range of 68 species had expanded dozens of miles to the north and east since 1974, likely due to “factors related to climate change,” including nighttime temperatures, researchers said. And last year, British scientists studying butterfly populations in the U.K. found that reductions in range were primarily due to habitat degradation, while long-term warming was a factor that helped to increase both range and overall population.

Meanwhile, endangered species in the United States seem to be doing just fine. American conservationists on Dec. 28 celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, which the Center for Biological Diversity calls the nation’s “most successful conservation law.” The organization credits the act with saving around 1,400 plant and animal species from extinction.

Whether federal law is responsible or not, endangered species in the United States have been remarkably successful during the past 40 years. During that time, only 10 of the species protected under the act (less than 1 percent of the total) have gone extinct. Populations of some species, like California least terns, San Miguel island foxes, and El Segundo blue butterflies have increased by several thousand percent. A report from the Center for Biological Diversity last year found that 90 percent of protected species were recovering on schedule.

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and leads WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate or a former science and technology reporter. Daniel resides in Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @DanJamDevine.

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