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Take a Walk on the Wild Side: How our changing climate is affecting all in nature

A monthly column by Rachel Shaw of the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

The vagaries of our weather mean that we always have a talking point for our coffee breaks.

Barely a month goes by without it being the hottest on record or the wettest or windiest.

Remember those last few weeks of February, when we could go for a walk at lunchtime without a coat. The wind came from the south-south-west bringing with it record breaking warm temperatures.

Leaves are unfurling at different times now each year as the weather changes. (7911472)
Leaves are unfurling at different times now each year as the weather changes. (7911472)

Hedgehogs, butterflies and bees came out of hibernation. Leaf buds on trees burst open and primroses flowered. The warmth and the sun lifted the spirits. But in the back of my mind, was the nagging doubt.

The weather isn’t supposed to be like this in February. Think back to February 2018. The difference is startling. In my own diary, I noted a difference of a month in spring sightings.

Snowdrops are often now seen earlier than before. (7911481)
Snowdrops are often now seen earlier than before. (7911481)

My first sighting of a small tortoiseshell butterfly last year was March 25. This year it was February 26. In 2018, the winds came from the east and picked up the name 'the Beast from the East'. They brought clouds filled with snow. Temperatures plunged well below zero.

In the natural world, timing is everything. Take the oak tree in spring. When the young oak leaves unfurl; the hatching of caterpillars is timed to perfection so they can feast on the leaves.

A blue tit in flight. Credit: Gillian Lloyd. (7911467)
A blue tit in flight. Credit: Gillian Lloyd. (7911467)

At that precise moment, blue tits are also hatching and the parents are feeding the caterpillars to their chicks. If it’s warm earlier than usual, the leaves unfurl early and the caterpillars hatch. But the blue tits are slower to respond. By the time their chicks are hatching, the caterpillars have gone. The chicks are left without enough food and the oak tree has far fewer leaves.

Whilst it might not have much impact for one year, a mismatch of food and hungry chicks over a few years may have more serious consequences. It could lead to a decline in the blue tit population and unhealthy oak trees. Research has shown that oak bud burst has already advanced more than 11 days since the 19th century.

The climate has changed before and wildlife has adapted along with it but this time the change is faster and unpredictable. The intricate connections between species are at risk. We are one of these species; we too depend on the intricate connections in the natural world. The weather, caused by our chaotic climate, is more important than small talk over a cup of coffee.

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