2014: A wildlife year in review

We round up a year of extreme weather, migrant species and a long hot summer in a wildlife review of 2014, with help from the National Trust

Gloucestershire floods

2014 was a rollercoaster year for Britain’s wildlife, with weather playing a key role. There were worries over migrant species, erosion and climate change, but it wasn’t all bad news – many resident birds and mammals had good breeding seasons last year.

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Matthew Oates, National Specialist on Nature and Wildlife at the National Trust, said: “The greatest challenge for wildlife this year, and perhaps a sign of things to come, was the extreme weather. This combined with the loss of habitat means that nature is in for a bumpy ride in the years ahead, as shown by the rollercoaster that many species endured in 2014. We remain worried about the long term trends which show enormous pressure on species and habitats.”

 
 

JANUARY: Winter storms batter the coast

Standing Strong

2014 was marked by a wild wet and windy start. The 2013/14 winter was the stormiest on record for the UK and January the wettest on record for England and Wales. Our coastline took the full force of the storms and resulted in a poor breeding season for little terns. 

The British coastline witnessed several years’ worth of erosion in areas, while inland many gardens and parklands suffered their greatest tree losses in almost 30 years.

Hazel catkins had already appeared by New Year’s Day in some districts.

Snowdrops came out very early.

FEBRUARY: Good news for bats and birds

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New research from the European Environment Agency revealed an ‘extremely encouraging’ rise in many species of bat.

Many seabirds recovered from the winter storms to begin highly successful breeding seasons against a period of decline since 2000. This included the shag population on the Farne Islands, where rangers recorded a 37% increase on last year’s count. 

Red squirrels mated early. 

MARCH: Spring arrives early

Primroses in Woodland

The mild winter weather gave way to an early but rapid spring which arrived with a bang on 7 March.

Primroses and celandines put on a short but spectacular show while insects such as bumblebees and butterflies appeared far earlier than usual.

As the land dried out in March, spring insects began to appear far earlier than usual and puffins returned to the Farne Islands two weeks early.

A report commissioned by leading wildlife and countryside groups found that fracking could potentially devastate wildlife habitats across the UK.

A study found that climate change might be benefitting long-tail tits, after their numbers were found to have doubled in the past 40 years. 

A good breeding season for frogs and toads.

 

APRIL: April showers

Vibrant bluebell carpet Spring forest landscape

The good weather held until the rain began in the last week of April, which unfortunately wiped out the early spring insects.

Ocean currents brought in jellyfish and leather-back turtle off Mwnt in Ceredigion, Wales.

The early spring had brought an outstanding bluebell season, however it was also swiftly halted by the wet weather at the end of the month.

Most trees unfurled their leaves early and quickly.

MAY: The early bats of May

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Despite the wet beginning and end to the month, May was recorded as the third warmest spring on record.

The earliest ever wild bats to be born in the UK were recorded in East Sussex thanks to the mild weather conditions.

A project to reintroduce the White-faced darter dragonfly to Cheshire began successfully.

The right weather conditions helped the return of the rare fen violet at Wicken Fen, which was last spotted in 2003.

The field fleawort was rediscovered on Dunstable Downs after an absence of 40 years due to the long and generally warm spring.

The nation’s first osprey chick of the year hatched at Rutland Water in the East Midlands.

 

JUNE: The start of a long hot summer

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After a wet start to the year June was blessed with a hot and dry spell.

The sunny weather brought lots of butterflies out early, including purple emperors in Surrey. Butterfly Conservation also revealed that a rare type of butterfly, the Continental Swallowtail, may be colonising the UK.

On Lundy off the north Devon coast, storm petrels bred for the first time.

In a 27-year first, rare black-winged stilt chicks hatched at RSPB reserves in southern England. 

JULY: The rise of the biting fly

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In July the hot and sunny weather continued, however with it came thunderstorms.

Conditions proved perfect for many horse flies, midges and mosquitoes, which breed in moist ground or shallow water.

Flying ants were widely spotted, leading to stories of seagulls getting ‘drunk’ after eating the insects.

Blackberries ripened by the end of the month.

AUGUST: Unusual arrivals

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The early sunny summer months were brought to a damp end by a cool, wet and windy August. The tail end of Hurricane Bertha helped to make it the eighth wettest August on record.

Wet weather leads to abundance of mosquitoes, but the cool August and interchangeable weather kept wasps at bay.

The month’s highlight was the discovery of breeding bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight. These very rare visitors, which normally nest in the Mediterranean, had eight fledged chicks, making it the most successful bee-eater breeding attempt ever recorded in the UK.

 

SEPTEMBER: A second spring

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The second driest September on record (and one of the five warmest) meant an abundance of nuts, seeds and berries on branches.  

Tree bumblebees were recorded for the first time in Northern Ireland at Cushenden on the Antrim coast. Since appearing in the UK in 2006 this bumblebee has rapidly spread, perhaps due to climate change.

Water voles returned to the RSPB’s Insh Marshes in Scotland for the first time in 20 years. 

Badger culls resumed in Gloucestershire and Somerset, in the second part of the government’s pilot programme to stop the spread of bTB in cattle.

Rare Risso’s dolphins were spotted off the Farne Islands. 

Rare Manx shearwater chicks were seen for the first time in living memory on St Ages and Gugh in the Isles of Scilly. 

Research found a worrying lack of hedgehogs in Britain. 

OCTOBER: Feasting on fungi

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Although October was wet and mild, September’s drought led to an often disappointing year for fungi, damaged further by slugs which were out in force as a result of October’s rain.

The mild weather spurred on a second spring with late flowerings of plants such as cowslips.

Quagga mussels, an invasive species from the Ponto-Caspian sea, was discovered in British waters. 

Invasive Harlequin ladybirds, now widely spread in Britain, were found to prefer urban environments.

Record number of little gulls seen over the Farne Islands – likely due to weather systems across the North Sea pushing them south.

NOVEMBER: Not such a white winter?

Eggs of Amphibian

The mild and wet autumn led to a second spring, with frogspawn discovered on the Lizard in Cornwall on 21 November and the first proper frost in the south only arriving on 23 November.

In the south of the UK, roses and other flowers lingered longer in the absence of hard frosts which didn’t appear until 23 November. 

An abundance of field voles, and other voles and mice was noted. 

DECEMBER: Seal pups arrive

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Defra announced that they failed to meet targets for badger culls in Gloucestershire. 

Due to the mild conditions the sea remained warm, resulting in a rare sighting of 28 long-finned pilot whales off the north Norfolk coast. 

Also in Norfolk a rising seal pup count meant Blakeney Point became the largest breeding colony of Atlantic grey seals in England.

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Which wildlife news stories shaped your 2014? Share them in the comments below.