Jono Leadley of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reflects on the past 12 months and looks ahead to 2013.

WE are at that point when we consider the events of the year about to close and look forward with optimism to the new year ahead.

Our warming climate showed us a taste of the future in 2012. We started in drought, with wildlife such as lampreys and trout along the UK’s most northerly chalk stream – the River Hull – suffering due to very low flow levels.

The springs of the Wolds were virtually dry and there were widespread concerns for our wetland wildlife as across the county frogs, toads and newts struggled to find breeding sites. And then it started to rain.

Flooding has happened repeatedly throughout 2012 causing huge amounts of damage to farmland, property and infrastructure. As we end the year, groundwater levels are so high that any significant rain immediately results in yet more flooding. T

his brings into sharp focus the need to restore our upland peatlands by blocking the miles of redundant drainage ‘grips’ to withhold water while at the same time restoring parts of the floodplain to slow down the flow of water into the river systems.

The impacts of all that water on wildlife have been varied. The late spring floods washed out many of the ground-nesting duck and wader nests in the Lower Derwent Valley for the second time, resulting in many pairs failing completely. Kingfishers and sand martins nesting in holes in riverbanks will have been washed out time and again.

The cold, wet weather hit other breeding birds hard too, with many of our warbler and tit species struggling to find food for their broods, an observation confirmed by the British Trust for Ornithology’s breeding bird survey work. The species affected should hopefully bounce back if conditions are more favourable in 2013. Time will tell.

The most shocking wildlife news of the year has been the confirmed arrival of ash dieback disease. The disease which causes the death of mature trees is caused by a fungus, Chalara fraxinea. It is thought to have arrived in the UK from nursery trees imported from Denmark, but it may have been carried here on the wind.

Arguing this point may now be frivolous as the disease seems here to stay and survey work has confirmed it to be widespread, with a number of cases discovered in Yorkshire. Many of Yorkshire’s great woodlands, including some of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s most loved nature reserves, such as Grass Wood in Wharfedale, have a predominance of ash and it remains to be seen what impact this dreadful disease will have.

The government has continued to let down the UK’s wildlife despite manifesto pledges to the contrary. The Wildlife Trusts have collectively lobbied hard for a change in the proposal to cull badgers in the West Country.

It seems that the government is at last listening to scientists who promote vaccinations as a more effective alternative, and the cull has now been delayed. Hopefully this will not just be a temporary reprieve.

The government has also let down our marine wildlife, with only a tiny handful of the 127 proposed Marine Conservation Zones actually making it into the first tranche to go forward to consultation, including none of the amazing sites off Yorkshire’s coast. Hopefully the consultation will receive such a positive response from the public that pressure will mount to accelerate the process.

Wildlife-wise, the year ended with a spectacular arrival of waxwings from Scandinavia which gave many a chance to see this attractive bird. As I write there are some big flocks still present in the county, plundering the remaining berries of Hull, Leeds and Sheffield.

Earlier in the year, a notable highlight was the presence of bitterns in the breeding season, with at least one pair successfully rearing young. Let’s hope this signals the return of this reedbed dweller as a breeding species.

The wet summer was a washout for many including butterflies and dragonflies, but some wildflowers seem to have benefited, with some spectacular shows of orchids at a number of meadows around the county, including YWT Askham Bog on the outskirts of York.

What will your best wildlife memory be? Let us know on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Facebook page. Mine has to be a close encounter with a roller at YWT’s Spurn National Nature Reserve back in the spring. Having arrived on site for a staff meeting, I was informed of the arrival of this stunning crow-sized Mediterranean visitor and hoped that I might get a glimpse.

Shortly, the radio crackled into life with news of the roller’s reappearance. I dashed out of the office and almost stumbled over this turquoise and salmon-pink beauty perched atop a fencepost nearby. Simply breathtaking. The bird soon moved on but was relocated later up the coast at Aldborough where it put on a show for several days, even tempting me to visit for seconds.

Next year will be a challenging time for Yorkshire’s wildlife.

It is sadly too late to stop ash dieback spreading through our woodlands, but we will do what we can to minimise its impact. Our increasingly turbulent climate may continue to challenge our already-pressurised wildlife and those species on the edge of their ranges, or squashed into the last few suitable havens, may sadly be lost from the county.

Rest assured the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations will continue to work hard to stop the loss of Yorkshire’s stunning range of habitats and wildlife and with your support the future is definitely brighter.