Wednesday, February 17, 2010

UK NEWS: Cold Weather Killing Deer

The "big chill" has delayed the arrival of spring flowers by up to one month and threatened thousands of deer with starvation as snow and ice bury the plants on which they survive.

With the Met Office warning of the possibility of icy weather again today, more evidence emerged, if we needed it, of just how the coldest January in years has hit wildlife and gardens at opposite ends of Britain.

Large numbers of red and roe deer are thought to have succumbed to lack of food in Scotland, with several estates having stopped deer shoots, although the annual cull of red deer hinds does not stop until next Monday. The Deer commission for Scotland has advised managers that they should continue with the roe deer cull, which does not end until next month.

One estate official told the BBC: "As the snow melts and people return to the hills, they will find dead deer. There's no doubt about that." Colin McLean, wildlife manager at the Glen Tanar estate on Deeside, added: "The sheer depth of snow has prevented deer getting at their food in certain places, and the frost has frozen the snow and they can't dig through it. It's nature at work."

But the commission said animals should still be shot on welfare grounds. "Natural mortality is an ongoing event, but this year it's going to be much greater than normal because of the weather we have had," said Robbie Kernahan, its director of deer management. "We'd encourage deer managers to get out and make sure they are removing the animals at greatest risk, which are likely to suffer through March and April."

Although this winter has been exceptional, UK spring has been arriving earlier than ever due to climate change. A major study released earlier this month compiled 25,000 records of springtime trends for 726 species of plants, animals, plankton, insects, amphibians, birds and fish across land, sea and freshwater habitats. It analysed them for changes in the timing of lifecycle events, such as egg laying, first flights and flowering, a science known as phenology. The results showed that more than 80% of trends between 1976 and 2005 indicated earlier seasonal events.

There were warnings of more snow, frost and ice today and tomorrow in areas as far apart as northern Scotland, the south-west, central and western England, eastern Wales, and Northern Ireland. But the good news is that spring, when it arrives, should be spectacular, according to the National Trust.

It predicted a riot of colour from the "perfect weather barometers" of its garden plants. The trust has widened its regular flower count from properties in Devon and Cornwall, where UK spring blooms traditionally appear first, to other sites. In the south-west, last year's wet summer and warm autumn put magnolias heavily in bud. So while they may flower late this year, the display will be "fabulous". At Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, the famous snowdrops collections are expected to be in full bloom next week, two to three weeks later than over the past decade.

Ian Wright, the trust's garden adviser in Devon and Cornwall, said that "once it warms up, everything will be blooming at once, rather than over a longer period of time, so we can expect a spectacular spring."

Source: The Guardian

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