From new beginnings for beavers to late snow in Snowdonia: A year in review

Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent
·5-min read

The annual review of the year from the National Trust reveals the highlights – and some low points – for weather and wildlife in 2020.

– January: Warmer than average. Beavers were released into enclosures at Holnicote Estate in Somerset to manage water in the landscape and prevent flooding.

Hen harrier spotted wintering in the organic, nature-friendly farmland managed by the trust at the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, the first the species has been seen there for more than five years.

– February: Wet, mild and stormy. Storm Ciara battered the beach at Formby, Merseyside, causing significant damage to the boardwalk and natural dune cliffs.

Damaged to the dune cliffs at Formby from storm Ciara in February (Isabelle Spall/National Trust/PA)
Damaged to the dune cliffs at Formby from Storm Ciara in February (Isabelle Spall/National Trust/PA)

Many ash trees had to be felled in the Fishpool Valley, within the Croft Castle Estate in north-west Herefordshire due to ash dieback.

– March: Less rainy and sunnier than average. Dartford warbler spotted at the Long Mynd in March for the first time in a couple of decades, benefiting from the mild winter.

Areas of Snowdonia looked like snow had fallen due to the amount of blackthorn blossom in bloom in hedgerows.

– April: Warm, dry and sunny. Curlews and eiders were spotted from April to June feeding or nesting in places they had not been before, because fewer people were around during lockdown.

A lack of visitors meant badgers were also spotted playing in daylight on the Mount Stewart Estate in Northern Ireland, and otters were also seen for the first time after only previously being seen in the Lough.

A male Marsh fritillary butterfly (Matthew Oates/National Trust/PA)
A male Marsh fritillary butterfly (Matthew Oates/National Trust/PA)

– May: Sunniest month on record. Marsh fritillary were spotted at The Coombes, Hinton Parva, Wiltshire for the first time.

There were 37 recorded sightings of the rare shrill carder bumblebee at Lytes Cary Manor in Somerset, with queens out of hibernation and worker bees recorded much earlier than normal because of the warm spring.

A pair of willow tits, the UK’s fastest declining resident bird, nested the banks of the Derwent at Gibside, the first time the birds have nested on the estate. Rangers and volunteers will now focus on expanding their territory.

– June: A mixture of sunny weather and heavy rain, thunderstorms and some flooding. Rangers at Lyme Park, Cheshire, discovered breeding woodcock in an area of woodland for the first time due to a lack of disturbance.

Woodcock chick at Lyme Park in Cheshire (Christopher Dunkerley/National Trust/PA)
Woodcock chick at Lyme Park in Cheshire (Christopher Dunkerley/National Trust/PA)

The Clifden nonpareil moth was recorded at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire, for the first time and at Ware Cliffs, part of the Golden Cap Estate, in Dorset as it continues to expand its range, likely due to warmer temperatures.

Summer storms washed away half the Arctic tern nests at Long Nanny, Northumberland, and the colony failed to produce any fledglings in the face of predators and disturbance.

A bearded vulture set up home in the Peak District for the summer before heading back south, and over the channel to Europe in the autumn.

– July: Generally unsettled, with a sudden spike in temperatures at the end of the month. Barn owls did not have a good breeding year at Gunby, Lincolnshire, as June’s heavy rain is thought to have hit their field vole prey.

But eight peregrine falcon chicks successfully fledged across three sites in the Peak District, and 12 marsh harriers fledged at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire.

Red squirrels were spotted on the feeders at Catherside Farm on the Wallington estate, Northumberland, for the first time in three years as the Wallington red squirrel population continues to recover.

Willow tit on a branch
Willow tit on a branch (Richard Bradshaw/National Trust/PA)

– August: A mini heatwave but also unsettled and rainy weather. Some 20 grass snakes were spotted at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, being more likely to venture out without so many visitors around.

The false cacao moth was identified at Murlough National Nature Reserve, the first recording of this species in Northern Ireland, bringing the species count for moths and butterflies at the reserve to 793.

– September: Bright showery weather, with a prolonged warm spell for the south. Only 1,000 autumn lady’s tresses were spotted on the Golden Cap Estate in Dorset compared to more than 30,000 in 2019, after suffering from the dry spring.

Hundreds of National Trust gardens and orchards reported an excellent year for apples due to ideal weather conditions, while hawthorn berries were as spectacular as their spring blossom.

– October: The UK had its wettest day on record when Storm Alex hit, and it was a mostly wet and dull month. Bearded tooth Hericium erinaceus – a rare and protected fungus – was found in veteran tree at Kingston Lacy, Dorset.

It was a mast year for many nuts and berries including acorns, conkers, holly, rosehip, spindle, blackberry, mistletoe and hawthorn, and many places reported a great year for autumn colour.

– November: Began mild, wet and windy but finished colder and more settled. Pink ballerina waxcap fungi were recorded at Tyntesfield near Bristol for the first time since 2006.

Mother and pup bonding at Blakeney Point in Norfolk (National Trust/Hanne Siebers/PA)
Mother and pup bonding at Blakeney Point in Norfolk (National Trust/Hanne Siebers/PA)

The Holnicote beavers built their first dam, the first on Exmoor for 400 years.

Rangers at Blakeney Point in Norfolk expect a bumper year for grey seal pups, with numbers likely to reach 4,000 for the first time.

– December: Mostly a warm and wet month. Snowdonia got its first significant snowfall which is later than normal, as snow usually falls in October or November. The snow will force the feral goats off the mountain and into the woodlands, rangers said.