How did the cold winter affect your wildlife?
Now that spring has arrived it feels a long time ago that we were tackling four inches of snow during the shooting of Snow Watch. The cold snap was a real challenge for wildlife, the long period of freezing temperatures and severe frost and ice outbreaks meant animals were dealing with a lack of food as well as the chilly temperatures.
We asked a few experts about how the cold winter had affected wildlife on their patch. But what about you? Have you noticed anything unusual about this spring's wildlife that our cold winter might have caused?
During the big freeze many people recorded sightings of this rarely-sighted, shy bird. The sharp drop in temperature forced bittern populations to forage further afield. Many left the dense reed beds that they are so perfectly camouflaged to live in.
Despite initial fears of survival during these adverse conditions, the arrival of warmer spring temperatures seems to have brought back the distinctive boom off the bittern. It may be a little too early in the day to say the bittern was unaffected by the cold snap, but the deep base tones of the bittern are a welcome return to the Ham Wall Reserve.
The RSPB's Big garden birdwatch found that a number of country birds had moved into our residential areas in search of food. But it wasn't just bird species that were affected by the extended snowy conditions. Generally our mammals hibernate for short periods. They emerge to forage for available food, before quickly retreating out of the cold. Many mammals, including badgers and foxes, would have extended their ranges and hunting hours to increase their food supply.
"In theory, a cold, dry winter should have been of benefit to any hibernators - both insects and other animals," says Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of Beds, Cambs, Northants and Peterborough (BCNP) Wildlife Trust. "They usually do better in cold winters as they use less energy while hibernating, and are less likely to be disturbed and come out to look for food which isn't there.
"This seems to have been true this year. Certainly here in East Anglia I have noticed queen bumblebees are milling about in profusion. And a moth count at our Pitsford Reservoir nature reserve recorded the largest numbers since records began there. In April there were three times the average numbers, and this is something I would expect to see mirrored across the UK.
"It's a rather confusing spring, as some species seem to be two to three weeks late, and others are 'on time'. So bluebells were late, green-winged orchids are still looking good, but marsh-orchids are in full bloom already. The earliest damselflies were on the wing in the first week of May in Yorkshire and in central England, and by now, the larger chaser dragonflies are out and about too.
"Other invertebrates that could benefit include beetles like the soldier beetles - an attractive sight on the hawthorn blossom, in our meadows or sitting on the flat white heads of hogweed. These have had a few poor years because of cold, wet weather in late spring and early summer. I hope the winter has helped their hibernation, so that whilst they may be a couple of weeks late in appearing, when they do I would expect there to be a lot of them!"
Further north in the UK, Kevin O'Hara of Northumberland Wildlife Trust says barn owls suffered badly in his county. "We had over 50 recorded mortalities in the county and many more un-recorded. But vole numbers have soared because of the relative peace and quiet they have had under the snow and ice, which meant they have bred well. And fewer voles have been eaten, so numbers proliferate.
"Tawny owl numbers have been swollen by the large numbers of voles, making broods larger than average. The 30-year old study of tawny owls and vole relationships in Kielder Forests has shown that over half (105) of the 200 nest boxes have families this year with several big broods of five."
So over to you. Have you noticed anything unusual this spring that our cold winter might have caused?