• National Trust 2015 review highlights how the weather has affected wildlife
  • Warm spell in early spring sees Frogs and Roe Deer flourish
  • Cold snap in late spring restricts food source for native birds
  • Stormy weather batters breeding birds on Farne Islands
  • Strong autumn winds and milder weather results in unusual sightings

2015 was another challenging year for wildlife, with many new issues coming to the fore, say experts at the National Trust as part of its annual weather and wildlife review.

The conservation charity, which looks after almost 250,000 hectares of land in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, conducts the review across its places every year to help paint a picture of how the year’s weather has affected the nation’s wildlife against a long-term backdrop of decline for 60% of species in the UK.

The year started well with the sunniest winter on record providing a stark contrast to the stormy weather which kicked off 2014. Spring arrived late, however, and summer migrant birds were held up by northerly winds. Despite the sunniest April on record since recording began in 1929, the weather quickly deteriorated in May as the jet stream jumped south.

The cold month that followed led to a generally wet and remarkably windy summer, notably in the north. After which a milder September and October was followed with autumn rains arriving only after the warmest November day on record (01 November).

The flooding and destruction caused by storm Desmond at the beginning of December, particularly in Cumbria and the North East, showed the intensity of extreme weather events that are likely to increase in frequency thanks to climate change. Experts at the National Trust say that not enough is yet know about the impact of storms like this on life in rivers and on land that has been flooded.

Stephen Morley, wildlife and countryside Adviser for the National Trust in the North said:

“It’s been a mixed year for wildlife across the country due to the weather, and it’s no different in the North East. The sunny weather in early spring allowed some native species to get off to a flying start, notably Roe Deer and Frogs in the North East. The cold, wet weather that followed has a negative impact on our native and breeding seabirds as their ability to feed was hugely restricted. Milder weather later in the year saw many species recover, but also some unusually unseasonal sightings including Cowslips flowering in November.”

Matthew Oates, nature and wildlife expert for the National Trust said: “Every year our wildlife has to deal with our weather’s highs and lows, and this year was certainly no different. This summary illustrates how our wildlife has fared over the last year, but long-term trends show the enormous challenges we face to reverse the worrying rate of decline”

Weather and wildlife in the North East:

1) Without any late frosts to catch them out, most of the Frog spawn at Wallington was successful with thousands of little Froglets hatching.

2) A dry sunny start to spring has led to an increase in sightings of Roe Deer juveniles at Wallington this year.

3) The cold snap in late spring had an impact on the food available for native birds. Bird ringing volunteers at Gibside reported poor survival rates of the Great, Blue and Coal Tit chicks, and the rangers at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge noticed lots of abandoned nests.

4) A storm in early May saw south-easterly winds batter the Farne Islands, destroying many of the eggs laid by cliff-nesting species including Shags and Guillemots.

5) Swallows arrived for summer later than usual this year at Wallington, with far fewer making it back than in previous years.

6) Rhododendrons at Cragside, which usually cover the estate in bloom from late May, flowered up to three weeks later than usual this year.

7) Mid-July saw 31.5ml of rain fall on the Farne Islands. Puffin burrows were flooded, Kittiwake nests were washed clean off the cliffs and many Arctic Tern chicks died in the rain.

8) Strong westerly-winds are thought to have blown the Buff-Breasted Sandpiper spotted on The Leas in September, across the Atlantic. The wading bird breeds in Alaska and North Canada and usually overwinters in South America.

9) Bats in a newly discovered roost at Gibside Stables were active into November this year, when they’d usually have moved to their winter hibernation site.

10) The mild autumnal weather could be the cause of some un-seasonal sightings along The Leas in November when rangers spotted a Cowslip in bloom and a Red Admiral Butterfly.

11) Strong easterly winds in late October bought an influx of Goldcrests on their autumn migration to The Leas near Souter Lighthouse where rangers ringed a total of 238 birds.

Other wildlife news this year from across the North East

1) In January rangers captured the first ever video footage of an Otter family at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge. Several Otters have also been spotted at Cragside this year and the head gardener at Wallington spotted an Otter in the Walled Garden for the first time in his 25 years working there.

2) A total of 49 Little Terns fledged at their nesting site at Long Nanny on the Northumberland Coast where five National Trust rangers camp out for three months over the summer to protect this rare species from land predators.

3) It’s been a poor summer for Butterflies with rangers at both Gibside and Wallington reporting decreased sightings during annual surveys and whilst out working.

4) Regular surveys of Dormice nest boxes at Allen Banks and Staward Gorge have ended with no sightings this year, but rangers are hopeful that the species has not disappeared from the area all together, and that they have just moved from their previous nesting grounds.

5) The results are in from the annual breeding seabird surveys on the Farne Islands. Headlines from the survey confirmed that Guillemots have had another record year with 53,461 counted despite the storms in May, but the Arctic Tern saw 600 less breeding pairs this year due to the stormy weather.

6) This year rangers on the Farne Islands have had a record breaking year for cetaceans with 157 separate sightings. Highlights include 30 sightings of White-Beaked Dolphins and a Basking Shark.