It's a busy time, not just for bees, and the natural world in summer is a fabulous feast for the senses. The days are long and the nights short – and if we're lucky there may even be some sunshine!
But even if there are summer downpours, just get your waterproofs on and get outside. Here are our top 10 reasons that make summer the ideal season to enjoy the best that nature has to offer. So what are you waiting for?
Sunshine and showers
Whether it’s long sunny days or sharp showers and thunderstorms that you prefer, a typical British summer has it covered. For most of us there’s always the expectation that summer will be filled with long, hot, lazy days and sunshine from dawn to dusk. The anticipation of trips to the beach and getting the barbeque out can almost be too much to bear. Alas it’s usually more often showers than sunshine and this year is shaping up to be no different. Not surprisingly the forecasts predicting summer to be changeable and unsettled.
In the UK we have a temperate maritime climate influenced by the Gulf Stream. Weather can vary on a daily basis, between and even within, our different regions. This is because of our location in the world – an island where dry continental winds from the east, moist maritime winds from the west, cold Arctic winds from the north and warm Tropical winds from the south converge. This is a simplification, but generally the south of the country is usually warmer than the north, and the west is wetter than the east.
Wildflowers everywhere you look
With so many beautiful flowers in bloom at this time of year, it can be easy to take them for granted – please don’t. Take a little time to study all the different flower shapes, patterns, colours and scents. While we should all be familiar with creamy, pungent elder flowers, delicate pink dog roses and towering foxgloves, try looking out for yellow birds-foot trefoil, pink bindweed, bold ox-eye daisies and rare orchids instead. A good field guide will help you identify all the different species, or get a head-start with an online guide from the National Wildflower Centre or Discover Life.
Summer is a great time to visit a wildflower meadow and an experience not quickly forgotten as they are teaming with life and flowers you are not likely to see anywhere else. They are rich with insects and birds to look out for, which make the visit even more special. You could even grow one yourself with some tips from PlantLife. But for those of you stuck in cars going on holiday, look out for fields of bright red poppies and yellow oil-seed rape, even roadside verges stand out at this time of year.
A bounty of bats and birds
On a dry summer's evening, just after the sun has set, look upwards and you’ll be rewarded with the sights of bats filling the sky, whizzing around catching insects. They have a very big appetite and can eat thousands in just one night. In the UK we have 17 different types of breeding bat ranging from the tiny pipistrelle to the larger noctule. But the most commonly seen bats in gardens are the common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat, noctule and Daubenton's bat, but other species may also be present. If you don’t have any then the Bat Conservation Trust have some things to do to encourage them, such as putting up a bat box or planting night-scented flowers. Find out more about living with bats here.
During the day look out for these quintessential summer avian visitors and masters of the skies: swifts, swallows and martins, as they duck and dive over lakes, rivers and ponds, catching flying insects and other invertebrates. Their skill in the air never ceases to amaze. Although superficially similar you’ll be telling them apart in no time with this handy identification guide. Be quick to catch a glimpse as they will start to leave in late summer / early autumn. If you like swallows then you can encourage them to nest in garages and outhouses and you can take part in a survey on swifts or the house martin survey.
Trips to the beach
The UK’s beaches are a popular destination for day trips and summer holiday makers. But there is much more than the feel of sand between your toes and paddling in the sea when you’re at the seashore. Where the the land meets the sea, look out for all the different types of seaweed or turn over a piece of driftwood to see the many interesting invertebrates, such as beetles, sandhoppers and small crabs. Among the most prized finds are cuttlefish bones (the internal gas-filled shell used for buoyancy) and mermaid’s purses (the empty eggcases of sharks, skates and rays). It would help The Shark Trust to identify potential nursery grounds if you find any empty egg cases – you can report your sightings on their great eggcase hunt project site.
As the sea retreats at low tide, explore a rock pool or two, they are a secret oasis of life waiting to be found. Beautiful red and purple beadlet anemones are quite common, but finding a shore crab scuttling around or watching a hermit crab dragging around its shell are real treats. And if you’re really lucky, there’ll be a transparent prawn slowly swimming around. Have a look at this rock pooling guide for families from the National Trust.
Beautiful butterflies, bees and other insects
When the sun is shining it is impossible not to smile as a beautiful butterfly flitters past or a bumblebee blunders from flower to flower. Some spectacular butterflies you’re likely to see and recognise include the peacock, tortoiseshell, comma and painted lady, while there is no forgetting the tropical-looking swallowtail if you’re lucky enough to spot one. Don’t forget to take part in the Big Butterfly Count, the world's biggest survey of butterflies, from the 15 July to 7 August. Bumblebees can be a bit harder to identify as our 25 species can all look very similar, so the Bumblebee Conservation Trust have a handy guide to help with our most common species and any sightings can be reported to the BeeWatch survey here.
Although beautiful and some of our most obvious summer insects, bees aren't the only insects to be look out for at this time of year. Near to bodies of water you’ll find dainty damselflies and further afield, stronger flying dragonflies. These insects are capable of some aerodynamic stunts that are sure to amaze. Beetles can be seen everywhere, from small and colourful ladybirds, cardinal and tiger beetles to black ground beetles and the king of them all, the stag beetle. Although the list is seemingly endless, keep a special lookout for lacewings and shield bugs as they can be particularly beautiful. There are plenty of rare insects to keep an eye out for, here’s a small selection to look for and what to do if you’re lucky enough to spot one.
Going on a wildlife adventure
This is a particularly good time of year to be outside and exploring all the glorious nature around you think of it as going on a wildlife adventure. There are number of things that you can do, just don’t forget your raincoat and umbrella in case of a shower! There are a number of organised wildlife and natural history holidays, from day trips to week-long excursions. They can include bird watching, marine mammal adventures or simply exploring a new habitat; or for a more hands on approach try a working holiday and help conserve our special places.
But why not go on your very own wildlife adventure? It could be as simple as exploring your own garden, local park or wild area such as woodland or grassland and recording what you see. Alternatively, how about doing something active like visiting a pond and lake and doing some pond dipping and reporting what you find to the Big Pond Dip, run by the Freshwater Habitats Trust. It’s never a bad idea to take part in a survey and become a citizen scientist, as your results can really make a big difference to our wildlife.
The sights, sounds and smells of a seabird city
Where does one start describing a seabird colony in summer? Firstly there’s the sensory overload from the smell of rotting fish and guano. Then there's the cacophony of calls and yells. And the sight of hundreds of thousands of birds all jostling for space is truly a feast for the eyes. These seabird cities are one of the world’s great wildlife spectacles – something that has to be experienced to be believed and the UK has some of best examples on the planet. Familiar birds to keep an eye out for include puffins, guillemots, gannets, razorbills and kittiwakes.
There are a number of locations around the UK’s coastline where you can experience this summer spectacular. The RSPB has a list of reserves that you can visit or try the National Trust for Scotland’s interactive map.
Discovering a new exciting habitat at its best
Come the summer months, some of the most spectacular and rare habitats erupt into life with colour and activity. Lowland heathland and upland heathland (better known as moorland), for example, are habitats that are rarer than rainforest. Visiting at this time of year and you’ll be rewarded by swathes of yellow gorse and purple heather, truly a sight to behold. If that wasn’t enough, then dig a little deeper and you’ll find them teeming with wildlife, from rare bees, butterflies and beetles to birds such as grouse on moorland and that lowland heathland specialist, the Dartford warbler. They are strongholds for our native amphibians, as well as our reptiles that can often be spotted basking in the sun.
To find out more about our amazing habitats and what you can see on a visit in summer, try using the Wildlife Trusts’ Habitat Explorer, or Plantlife for the flora that’s on offer.
Spotting an active animal
The arrival of the sun, warmer temperatures and longer days means it’s the perfect time to look for all our brilliant larger animals. Supplies of food for our mammals are plentiful at this time of year, so look out for foraging badgers, hedgehogs and foxes as the sun starts to set. It’s also a good time to watch marine mammals, alongside our permanent residents such as harbour porpoise and grey seals, look out for some impressive passing migrants including orca, minke whales and the mighty humpback whale. The Marine Society is interested in hearing about your sightings of a number of different marine species, and you can report all sightings from land or from sea to the Sea Watch Foundation.
But let’s not forget our native reptiles and amphibians this summer, they are amazing animals and a joy to look out for. The best time to go looking for reptiles is when they are either basking in the sun to warm up in the morning or when the cold has slowed them down, and for amphibians, who don’t stray far from water, weather and time of day are important factors to consider because if it’s too cold or hot they will become less active and take shelter. Sightings of native and alien species can be submitted to the Amphibian and Reptile Groups of the UK recording site.
Enjoying nature to become healthier and happier
Just remember that whatever you do this summer, be it enjoying the nature in your garden, doing a spot of bird watching at the coast or simply discovering a new habitat, you are helping yourself to become healthier and happier. The nature lovers among us wouldn’t argue with this and there have been a growing number studies and reports putting forward the benefits of feeling part of nature. So it’s great news that a recent study showed scientifically and statistically just how important nature is for our happiness and well-being.
Jeremy Coles is a staff writer for BBC Earth. He is @jpcoles on Twitter.
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