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Summer blooms through the rain
10:40am Saturday 7th July 2012 in Columnists
In his monthly column, Jono Leadley of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust looks at the effects of our wash-out summer.
CAN you believe it is mid-summer? What a turbulent time it has been, with unseasonal floods across Yorkshire caused by immense downpours more akin to the tropics than our usually moderate climate.
The temperature has fluctuated wildly with some days feeling like June and the next day like November. This unseasonal weather interspersed with extreme events is likely to become more common because of the effects of a changing climate so it will be interesting to see how our native wildlife adapts to these more unpredictable conditions.
The floods will have again washed out many birds’ nests, including sand martins and kingfishers that tunnel into the banks of the River Ouse and its tributaries in Yorkshire, and wading birds, such as snipe, redshanks and lapwings which nest on the ground at Wheldrake Ings and elsewhere in the Lower Derwent Valley.
Many of these birds will have already lost eggs or young to the previous spring floods and if they have succumbed again, it will remain to be seen whether they will try and re-lay.
Some birds have clearly benefited from higher water levels, including a pair of common terns and four or five pairs of great crested grebes that have bred at Wheldrake Ings.
The presence of a black-necked grebe at nearby Bank Island suggests this secretive species may have returned to the valley.
The cool, wet weather and flooding seems to have affected plants too. The pale pink blooms of cuckoo flower, known also as Lady’s smock, were still present in early June, in the damp meadows lining the rivers near York. As its name suggests, this species usually flowers in April, as the first cuckoos of the spring can be heard calling.
At Askham Bog, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s oldest nature reserve, a terrific display of wild flowers including northern marsh and common spotted orchids has developed, among a carpet of cerise ragged robin and daffodil-yellow flag iris.
In the ditches, the delicate pink flowers of water violet have put on a spectacular show. Despite its name, this rare species is not actually a violet but a member of the primrose family.
A small colony of exquisite bee orchids has been equally popular, growing on the verge in the nature reserve car park.
Askham Bog’s celebrated royal ferns are also looking impressive, with spikes of rufous sporangia among the vibrant green foliage. These specimens are thought to be very old but trust staff have located smaller ferns elsewhere on site, suggesting that conditions are still good for them to reproduce. Some large examples can be seen easily from the circular boardwalk.
A pair of spotted flycatchers has nested at Askham Bog this year. This trans-Saharan migrant has declined rapidly across lowland England, so I am thrilled a pair has managed to raise young here.
The nest was in the hollow end of a broken branch and despite the parents’ unobtrusive behaviour, the nest had been attracting the unwelcome attention of the local great spotted woodpeckers, which as any Springwatch viewer will know, will readily predate young birds.
The large amount of standing water at Askham Bog has led to an explosion in the population of midges and other biting insects.
This is providing plenty of food for the flycatchers and plenty of irritation to visitors, so don’t forget to take your repellent if you visit!