Page last updated at 05:49 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Erratic weather 'harms wildlife'

Blue tit
Heavy rain caused food shortages for blue tits

UK wildlife is struggling to cope as erratic and unseasonal weather has taken its toll for a second consecutive year, the National Trust says.

It says birds, mammals and particularly insects have all suffered from a cold, late spring, a wet summer with little sunshine and a long, dry autumn.

The trust says species under threat include puffins, marsh fritillary butterflies and lesser horseshoe bats.

They warned another wet summer in 2009 could be a disaster for insects.

Studies of the past year by the trust's conservation experts show the impact of the weather and how some wildlife has become out-of-step with the usual seasonal patterns:

• Snowdrops and red admiral butterflies were first spotted in January, earlier than normal.

• Bees were hit hard in April by frost and snow

• Rain in late May caused many birds' nests to fail, including those of the blue and great tits, because of the lack of insect food

• It was a poor summer for migrant insects - butterflies, moths, hoverflies, ladybirds and dragonflies - because of the wet and cold June

• In July, puffin numbers on the Farne Islands were down 35% on what they had been five years earlier

• The common autumn cranefly, usually in pest proportions in September, was all but absent

Matthew Oates, a conservation adviser for the National Trust, said: "Many iconic species closely associated with the four seasons are having to cope with higher incidents of poor weather as our climate becomes more unpredictable.

"After two very poor years in a row we desperately need a good summer in 2009 otherwise it's going to look increasingly grim for a wealth of wildlife in the UK.

"Climate change is not some future prediction of what might happen, it's happening now and having a serious impact on our countryside every year."

This year's weather has brought some advantages however.

The cold and wet October made it a bumper year for fungi, with 26 species of waxcap spotted.

Unseasonal weather also led to a spectacular display of red, yellow and orange autumn leaves.

Poor weather in August had its benefits for certain cabbage white butterflies which prospered as their predators were depleted, the trust said.

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