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Spring is here, but is the wildlife?

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 11:01 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Have you been wondering how the harsh winter affected our wildlife? Or are you concerned about changes in your garden?

BBC Natural History Unit producer and lifelong birder and naturalist Stephen Moss has been taking stock of this spring's wildlife and is here to share his thoughts with you.

swallow © mark eggleton

As I gaze out over my Somerset garden, where peacock butterflies compete for my attention with singing chiffchaffs, and swallows hawk in the blue sky above, Snow Watch seems an awfully long time ago. Yet it is just three months since we - and our wildlife - were experiencing the hardest winter for more than thirty years.

So can we draw any conclusions from the hard winter and subsequent late spring? For late it is - results from the Woodland Trust Nature's Calendar survey suggest that some spring events may be up to four weeks later than the past few years, and two weeks later than the long-term average. In my own garden, the buds on the ash trees are only just coming into leaf, allowing me to get great views of singing birds usually obscured by thick foliage.

Bird numbers do seem to be back to normal: certainly there are plenty of wrens, a species I would expect to have suffered badly in the snow; and also singing song thrushes, dunnocks, tits and goldfinches. Maybe, as we suspected back in January, our new-found habit of feeding garden birds really did make a big difference this year. The RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch survey did see a big decline in garden goldcrests - and they do seem very thin on the ground - but others look like they have made it through relatively unscathed.

Small mammals also appear to have done OK - at least according to the totally unscientific survey I did this weekend! My neighbour Alison Tutt of the Mammal Society brought along 17 small mammal traps, of which no fewer than five yielded a small mammal: three (short-tailed) field voles and two wood mice.

Insects appear to have done OK too: recent sightings of butterflies suggest that the hard winter allowed them to overwinter successfully without emerging too early. As Martin Warren of Butterfly Conservation told me, our butterflies have evolved to cope with typical British seasons, so hopefully this year will be a good one after the past three dismal summers.

One group of creatures not directly affected by the hard winter weather are our long-distance bird migrants such as the swallow, willow warbler and cuckoo. So far the only truly long-distance migrants to have returned to my village are the swallows. But in the next fortnight I expect the floodgates to open, with reed, sedge and willow warblers, whitethroats, and lesser whitethroats, to return to the gardens, hedgerows, and lanes of my country parish. Watch this space!

Find out more about flowers blooming earlier as a result of our changing weather and follow BBC Weather's spring updates to see how six spring species are being sighted across the UK.

Have you noticed any changes in the wildlife where you are? Let us know by commenting below.


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