July 2022 will be remembered as the month when UK temperatures exceeded 40°C for the first time ever. Scientists say this would not have been possible without human-induced climate change. A temperature of 40.3°C in Lincolnshire broke the previous UK record, set just three years earlier, by an astonishing 1.6°C. But it was not just the record heat that impacted wildlife. A very early spring, extreme rainfall in the first three months, drought from May to August and a lack of autumn frosts combined to make 2022 a year of extremes. The impact on wildlife was significant and complex.
It was a year of wildlife challenges. The Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and others lamented the drying up of small ponds and puddles before toad and frog spawn and tadpoles had matured enough to survive. There is anecdotal evidence that some resident butterflies (which lost meadow flowers to drought) and more northern species of dragonfly, the black darter for example, saw significant local population declines. The biggest impact reported by a range of charities was the loss of thousands of young trees in all of the areas impacted by drought. The National Trust reported major losses of new trees at Cambridgeshire’s Wimpole Estate and the Buscot Estate in Oxfordshire for example.
There were, however, some unexpected benefits from the warmer, drier conditions. Early rainfall in spring combined with summer heat meant that 2022 was an outstanding year for many fruit trees, especially apples and pears. In response to the protracted drought across much of central, southern and eastern England and Scotland, many native trees produced record quantities of seeds – a reaction to heat stress to preserve future generations. According to the National Trust, an abundance of beech mast, rowan seed and acorns will have helped to give a new generation of trees a fighting chance.
A Rocha UK is calling on the government to take three steps to help protect nature from climate change. Firstly, we would like local authorities to move away from mowing parks and roadside verges – longer grass will help to reduce soil surface temperature and retain moisture. This is about shifting perspectives, not additional funds. Secondly, we want new legislation to ensure that at least 15% of the area of every new housing estate is planted with native trees and shrubs – for climate resilience and to act as a carbon sink. Finally, we seek assurance that the government will deliver its target of 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year from 2024, and would welcome a focus of planting in local neighbourhoods as well as major native forest schemes.
The National Trust was one organisation that reported back formally at a national level on the impacts of 2022 on nature. You can read its Weather and Wildlife Review 2022 here.
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