A warmer climate

A MILD winter across Europe has left nature in a totally confused state, and experts fearing the future effects of global warming. With 2006 being declared the warmest year on record and birds that normally fly south preferring to stay in the UK, it wo

A MILD winter across Europe has left nature in a totally confused state, and experts fearing the future effects of global warming.

With 2006 being declared the warmest year on record and birds that normally fly south preferring to stay in the UK, it would appear the climate is shifting.

LESLEY INNES looks at the effects of the mild winter, which are being seen across East Cambridgeshire.

OUR mild winter weather may be a bonus for us but it has turned nature on its head. The changes are being seen across the region as birds and animals react to the higher winter temperatures.


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At Wicken Fen, wardens have noticed birds normally arriving from Scandinavia have just not turned up this year and Brimstone butterflies were still flying around in December.

"We have not had the usual numbers of winter thrushes, redwing and fieldfare, which migrate south from Scandinavia in the winter," said Isabel Sedgwick, visitor services manager at Wicken Fen.

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"This may be indicative of milder conditions in the north of Europe generally.

"Also, we haven't had as many short-eared owls or hen harriers as we have had in previous winters, which again, may be due to warmer weather elsewhere meaning they haven't had to come this far south.

"It is difficult to say for sure that this is a result of the weather. There are many other factors at work, such as scarcity versus abundance of food, which can have a large impact on numbers of birds of prey. Wildfowl such as wigeon and pochard are also lower in numbers this winter.

"The wardens have recorded brimstone butterflies in December, though, which is directly attributable to the mild local conditions."

Dr Chris Thorne, who has been ringing birds on Wicken Fen for many years, said he would normally expect there to be large concentrated groups of birds, such as reed buntings, greenfinches and fieldfare, feeding on berries or at feeders at this time of year.

Although the birds are on the fen, they are widely dispersed as there is more food, such as insects, readily available across the reserve because the ground isn't frozen.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reported that Bewick swans, which usually arrived in Britain in October from Siberia, have stayed longer than usual in countries such as Estonia or the Netherlands because of plentiful food.

Birds cutting down on migration save vast amounts of energy on dangerous flights, such as from the Arctic to Africa and back, and can have the pick of northern breeding sites in spring.

"With increasing warmth in winter we suspect that some types of birds won't bother to migrate at all," said Grahame Madge, RSPB spokesman.

David Denman, who looks after legally protected species for English Nature, has noticed changes in animal behaviour in Cambridgeshire.

He said: "The mild weather has prolonged the stay of bats in their roosting sites, which they would normally leave in September or October."

Bananas have grown for the first time in the grounds of Cambridge University. Gardeners at Clare College harvested the Japanese banana last summer and experts said the hot July temperatures had allowed the plants to flourish.

The crop took college gardeners by surprise because they had never seen their banana plant produce fruit before. The effects of the changing temperatures are being felt right across Europe.

In the French Alps, only one third of the normal level of snow has fallen in the weeks leading up to Christmas and temperatures were three degrees higher than usual.

In some places, the weather was so warm that even the artificial snow machines failed to work.

Moscow recorded 8.6 degrees centigrade during the week before Christmas when it is usually minus four degrees, and a bumper raspberry crop was harvested in Northumberland at the end of November.

The months of September, October and November were the warmest in East Anglia since 1659, with the average temperature in November just above 11 degrees. Just before Christmas, an appeal went out from the Woodland Trust for reports of oak trees, which were still in leaf. Now weather experts predict global temperatures could increase by almost 4.5 degrees centigrade in the next 100 years.

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