Phil Smith

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes March 2015

Common Frog at Freshfield Dune Heath (Phil Smith)

A pattern of dry spring months has been evident for over a decade, March having only 65% of normal rainfall in England and Wales. An unexpected deluge came on 12th-13th but a small recovery in the height of the dune water-table in mid-month was subsequently lost. The ponds at Freshfield Dune Heath Nature Reserve remained extremely low but still attracted lots of Common Frogs.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2015

Dune Pansy (Phil Smith)

An almost constant refrain in my April notes since 2007 has been drought conditions in the dunes. Persistent high pressure meant no measureable rain fell between 4th and 25th April. This pattern is now well established, analysis of spring rainfall data from the Ainsdale National Nature Reserve weather station revealing a statistically significant decline since 2000. 

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes April 2017

Purple Ramping-fumitory (Dr Phil Smith)

Since I started these notes in 2007, almost every April has been characterised by prolonged drought conditions. However, with a total of about 5mm of rain falling on five days during the month, this has been arguably the worst yet. The Met. Office acknowledged that April 2017 was the 10th driest on record for the UK but most other parts of the country had far more rain than us. Climate scientists have shown that spring droughts here are linked to persistent high-pressure systems over Greenland. These interfere with the North Atlantic Jet Stream that controls our weather and are the result of a warming trend in the Arctic brought about by climate change. This has major implications for our wildlife, not to mention agriculture and water supply but the TV weather presenters were still having apoplexy at the slightest hint of rain in the forecast. So much for our “green and pleasant land” as vegetation became parched and numerous grass fires were reported, one destroying Heysham Moss Nature Reserve in north Lancashire.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes August 2016

Portland Moth on Lichen (Phil Smith)

A rather unremarkable month for weather, August had average rainfall and a couple of short warm spells but was largely characterised by cool windy conditions. My frequent visits to the dunes revealed a surprising lack of large insects, especially dragonflies and butterflies. Thus, after a gale the previous day, I called in at our premier dragonfly site in the Birkdale dunes on 8th and was horrified to find not a single dragonfly or damselfly. This seems to have been a widespread phenomenon, local moth trappers also reporting a poor season.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes December 2016

Tulostoma brumale (Dr Phil Smith)

In complete contrast to last year, this desperately dry autumn and winter continued throughout December, with only nine days producing measurable rainfall. Much heralded in the media, two named storms were little more than damp squibs, producing an hour or two of light rain and a fresh breeze.

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes February 2017

Phil Smith

The driest autumn and winter in living memory continued for the first part of the month with measurable rainfall on only three days up to the 17th. Finally, more normal Atlantic conditions reasserted themselves, with high winds of storm “Doris” rattling in on 23rd. At last, some proper rain fell on each day from 21st to 28th. Nevertheless, this had minimal impact on the depleted water-table. At the Devil’s Hole, I found the level had risen by only 4cm by the end of the month, being still 12cm below the ground surface. A Common Frog was hiding in my measuring hole!

Dr Phil Smith: Wildlife Notes January 2017

Mediterranean Gull, Southport Marine Lake (Phil Smith)

The driest autumn and winter in living memory continued throughout January with only six rain-days. Total precipitation for the Northwest was said to be 50% of normal but I suspect it was much less than that here. At the end of the month, the Devil’s Hole water-table was 16cm (6 inches) below the ground surface, a full 54cm (21 inches) lower than last year. Of course, this has major implications for our wildlife, especially the Natterjack Toad which will have very few places to breed unless there is a deluge in February and March.

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