According to the National Trust, England’;s wettest-ever year is likely to have been ‘an apocalypse for some wildlife’;. Nest-building, breeding and feeding have often been difficult, with normal behaviour patterns interrupted. Birds, bats and insects have all been affected, and most at risk are species with small and isolated populations.
The often forgotten factor in these stories is that plants and animals have evolved over millions of years to cope with good times and bad. Their presence demonstrates their success. In the very long term many species will successfully evolve before declining and becoming extinct. During this natural process the weather from year to year, or even decade to decade, should not be an issue. The real problem is the ways and the speed at which the human species has changed the world and continues to do so. An example of this year’;s difficulties is that many puffin burrows have been washed out, preventing young being raised. This is less threatening to puffins than the shortage of the small fish they eat, like sand eels, which appear to have been almost fished to extinction themselves for use in fish meal products.
Closer to home the rise of intensive farming in the 20th Century, air and water pollution, and habitat loss and damage have affected wildlife populations far more profoundly than any extreme weather will ever do. Populations of, if not individual, animals and plants are programmed to survive heat, cold, drought and flood; they cannot survive the loss of their food sources or the places needed to complete their life-cycles. Where populations have become smaller and more isolated, recovery from bad years is much more difficult than it would otherwise be.
What the natural world is really in danger from therefore is the lack of political will to care for it and to take it into account when making major decisions. The Coalition Government wanted to be the greenest Government ever, an aspiration no one thinks it has come anywhere near to achieving. In any case the proponents of this were thinking more about energy, transport and resource consumption than about nature conservation. In this country and others almost every reform proposed to improve the environment or help nature is fiercely opposed by the business and growth lobbies.
No wonder then that we shelter behind a bit of bad weather instead of tackling the real issues. Rain is the problem now; back in May the Guardian was saying that the end of the drought was really good for wildlife, with a headline on 4 May ‘Wet Weather helps ailing wildlife in England and Wales’;. No doubt whatever weather 2013 brings we will continue to use it to mask the very real long-term damage inflicted on the natural world by our modern lifestyles.