The highs and lows for the natural world in 2021

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Wildlife is increasingly being affected by changes to weather, seasons and landscapes that the climate crisis is causing.

Here are some of the highs and lows for the natural world in 2021:

– Rangers spotted 10 melanistic grey seal pups at Blakeney Point, Norfolk, in January. While most grey seal pups shed their white fur at two to three weeks old to reveal the grey fur underneath, around one in 400 grey seals have a velvety black coat instead when they moult.

Despite Storm Arwen in the autumn, grey seal colonies cared for by the National Trust are expecting an increase in pup numbers again this year, continuing an upward trend due to the lack of predators and plenty of food.

Night-cam film capture of the new beaver kit on the Holnicote estate (National Trust/PA)
Night-cam film capture of the new beaver kit on the Holnicote estate (National Trust/PA)

– The National Trust released a male and female beaver to an enclosure on the edge of the South Downs in March to bring back missing natural processes in the landscape.

Meanwhile beavers on the Holnicote estate in Somerset, which were reintroduced in January 2020, gave birth to their first kit in June, who the public voted to call Rashford after the England footballer Marcus.

– At Sandilands in Lincolnshire, swallows, house martins and swifts arrived late in the season, as persistent northerly winds in spring delayed migration significantly and there seemed to be fewer birds passing through as a result.

There were fewer reports of swallows and house martins in many places.

Damage caused by the wildfire in the Mourne Mountains (National Trust/PA)
Damage caused by the wildfire in the Mourne Mountains (National Trust/PA)

– At the end of April, a wildfire which burnt for three days devastated more than a third of the 1,300 acres of land the National Trust cares for in the uplands of the Mourne Mountains, affecting birds such as the skylark, meadow pipit and snipe, as well as Irish hares.

Another three-day fire in April on Marsden Moor, West Yorkshire, destroyed two square miles of moorland designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), hitting the plant life, mountain hares, curlew and short-eared owls, and destroying important peat soils.

– Cooler weather in May meant gardeners at Ham House in west London found hundreds of slugs and snails appeared and were undaunted by sandy soil and gravel paths, even climbing fruit tree stems trained up south-facing walls to eat young plum leaves.

– In contrast to 2020 when some butterflies were on the wing early due to the prolonged warm spring, some species emerged a few weeks later because of the colder conditions.

And in Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, the cool, wet weather delayed the emergence of many dragonfly and damselfly species which live there.

Matted sea-lavender, Blakeney Point (Richard Porter/PA)
Matted sea-lavender at Blakeney Point (Richard Porter/PA)

– Rock sea-lavender put on one of its best displays ever seen at Blakeney Point, while its close relation, the nationally rare matted sea-lavender, also put on a good display and is spreading from its traditional strongholds on the site.

– It was a good year for pyramidal orchids and other wildflowers – with carpets of the orchids seen in Rodborough Common in Gloucestershire in June and July, and bee orchids flowered profusely at the Golden Cap estate in Dorset, largely due to the very dry April and very warm June.

Cotehele in Cornwall also reported a bumper year for wildflowers.

– The southern migrant hawker dragonfly, which started breeding in England in 2010 around the Thames Estuary, was recorded at two areas on the Golden Cap estate in Dorset for the first time.

Also on the Golden Cap estate, at West Bexington, an Italian tree-cricket was heard singing. The Mediterranean sound has been heard in Kent for several years as a colony has established there and the insects now seem to be colonising other places.

Striking autumnal colours in the Great Wood, part of the old deer park at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.
Striking autumnal colours in the Great Wood, part of the old deer park at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk (Justin Minns/National Trust/PA)

– Autumn colour kicked in later in October, after a very mild September, and there was a great show of colour well into November until it was brought to an abrupt end by Storm Arwen, with its gale-force winds that brought devastation to parts of the country.

– It was a good year for fungi, with one of the National Trust’s hay meadows in Shropshire seeing more than 17 species of waxcaps, making it nationally important for grassland fungi.

Ivory coral fungi was discovered in Yorkshire for the first time since 2016 in 12 clumps – a rare sight – while there were also 13 clumps of the uncommon violet coral and sightings of the parrot waxcap.

Ivory coral fungus in West Yorkshire (Jennie Smith/PA)
Ivory coral fungus in West Yorkshire (Jennie Smith/PA)

– The National Trust reported it would have to remove an additional 30,000 ash trees for health and safety reasons at a cost of £3 million as ash dieback disease continues to spread across the country.

The conservation charity warned British trees are under increasing threat from diseases such as ash dieback, Phytophthora ramorum and acute oak decline, which all could have an even bigger impact as the effects of climate change are felt.

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