The year 2021 passed, resulting in several extreme kinds of weather compared to the past. Among several sectors, it has affected the biodiversity sector massively, entailing both flora and fauna. 

Multiple countries have become the victims of wildlife loss during 2021. Among them, the United Kingdom is the one.

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Extreme weather events in UK

In 2021, the United Kingdom had gone through several cascading extreme weather consequences. 

  • At the onset of January, notably, 18-20 January, the storm known as ‘Christoph’ hardly hit North Wales and North-West England. The considerable snowfall after the storm Christoph occurred caused an icy condition in several parts of the country.
  • The storm Arwen and Darcy, which moved from the Atlantic Ocean, has harmed the overall biodiversity. Basically, in the early February of 2021, in the United Kingdom, Storm Darcy has resulted in freezing cascading effects in southwest England. 
  • Falling off the 300-meter cliff in the Dorset coastline during April 2021 lamented that it has affected the coastal floral and the faunal habitat at an unprecedented rate. The major contributor to this mass devastation is long-term dryness, rainfall, and erosion over the years.
  • Torrential rain hit several parts of the country during September. The storm Arwen that occurred in November 2021 caused the heavy trees to fall, thereby contributing to the ‘red weather warning.’
  • Several wildlife species had been devastated within 250,000 hectares of countryside, 500 historic properties, natural protected areas, and 780 miles of the coastlines in the United Kingdom. In contrast, some of them have reinitiated their life once again.
  • The heavy storm in Wallington in Northumberland caused the uprooting of over half of the 250 years old oak and beech trees. The trees were uprooted by the storm, which had a speed of 98 mph. The more extreme weather conditions in 2021 in London have targeted the wildlife species.

Effects of extreme weather linking biodiversity

  • Due to the alteration in the extreme weather, wildfires have destroyed the threatened species’ habitat that entails the golden plover and Irish hare.
  • Because of the Earth warming rapidly, several disease outbreaks caused ash dieback, promoting the forest ecosystem’s massive tree loss basically in the autumn season in the United Kingdom.
  • In the lake district of National Trust land, extreme weather (Arwen storm) uprooted several hectares of forest, destroying the irreplaceable trees. 
  • In the United Kingdom, dealing with severe weather, flash flood, and heatwave resulting from global warming have been considered a topic of issue all over the globe.
  • There is a rapid alteration in the behavioral way of the terrestrial and the aquatic creatures. Their feeding behavior and the breeding time have been changed with the increment of a heatwave and the colder climates.
  • The United Kingdom faced the third warmest, fifth wettest, and the lightest sunniest in the record. Under such record-breaking, there is warmer temperature and a cooler environment.
  • Such extreme conditions have caused the declination of over half of the United Kingdom species. 15% of the wildlife species have been facing the extinction threat.
  • Because of the alternating pattern in the weather, small populations are on the verge of risk. Thanks, some beautiful changes resulted in flora and fauna flourishing in the United Kingdom.

Positive outcomes of the extreme weather in 2021

1. The grey seal, squirrels, and the dormice

Red squirrel | Photo Credit: Issac Sloman

Predators with less population and adequate availability of the food resources within their habitat may increase their population. Rarely, one or two seals used to be visualized on the Suffolk coast at once. 

But with the extreme weather and outcomes such as devastating wildfires, an increase in the temperature and storm has brought them back. They sought for several days in a group enjoying their original natural surroundings.

There were good numbers of the dormice in the Holnicote Estate in Exmoor in the autumn season. On Brownsea Island in Dorset, three red squirrel kittens were born. 

It provides crucial evidence that the alteration in the weather pattern unpredictably could sometimes favor the species. For this, they have to survive through many challenges and natural changes.

The frequent changes in the climatic factors such as temperature, pressure, humidity content could have detrimental effects on its distribution. 

2. Italian tree Cricket

Italian Tree Cricket | Photo Credit: Marco Chemollo

In the West Bexington of Dorset, the Italian tree cricket was recorded singing for several years. 

The most exciting part of this species is that it has been colonized even in other places. All these are the outcomes of the changes in the weather pattern over the years.

There is an increasing trend of bird sound recording. Once they get favorable environmental conditions, they could revive their natural habitat. 

In addition, the change in the weather pattern will not affect their sound for a prolonged period. 

3. Spiders and damselfly

Close up of Brown Spider| Photo Credit: Dev Leigh

With the entail of the diamond-backed spider, a critically endangered spider enlisted by the Red List of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), over 100 spider species were spotted at Clumber Park Nottinghamshire.

Besides this, there was a recording of a small-eyed- damselfly at Wenlock Edge in Shropshire and had been colonizing towards the northern side. 

These incidents show that their distribution seems to increase due to climate change-induced extreme weather gradually. 

4. Beavers

Brown Bear on brown bark tree | Photo Credit: Francesco Ungaro

Beaver has been inferred as the ecosystem engineer since long back. The action that it carries for the welfare of the ecosystem looks pretty incredible and fascinating. 

The term ‘ecosystem engineer’ was devoted to it since they are noted for making the dams through a collection of the plant’s parts, such as small twigs and branches.

Large numbers of the beavers visualized on the Holnicote Estate on Exmoor in the 2021 January season. 

It is glad to mention that under such extreme weather patterns in 2021, the first beaver kit was born, which signifies that the beaver population could increase if there is a good season and the climate for breeding.

5. Seagrass

Turtle glass, a common seagrass | Photo Credit: Joe Whalen

A new species of seagrass was found to be growing after the unpredicted changes in the temperature, rainfall, and humidity content in the atmosphere.

The seagrass is considered foremost in providing the critical habitat for most marine creatures. Undoubtedly, it acts as an excellent source of the carbon sink. Thus, its presence despite the extreme weather is inferred substantial.

6. Grassland fungi

Various Mushroom species of UK | Photo Credit: Andrew Ridley

It looks pretty good to depict some floral species, such as the fungi possessing the wax caps. 

Still, the grasslands are exciting despite the unpredicted weather change pattern in 2021. Seventeen species were detected by the rangers from Shropshire, National Trust.

Supporting the 17 species of fungi in such changing weather is not a small matter. Apart from this, the team discovered one non-native species inferred by the term ‘Devil’s fingers’ or ‘Octopus Stinkhorn’ in Herefordshire.

In 1920, ‘Devil’s fingers’ or ‘Octopus Stinkhorn’ was supposed to be introduced to Europe, basically from Australia or New Zealand. 

This species was introduced unintentionally. You could see that the extreme weather has revived one of the non-native species in the area.

7. Orchid species

Purple Orchid on Black background | Photo Credit: Thomas Oxford

Considering the case of the orchid, the hot June season of the year 20201 and the dry May have significant contributions in flourishing the number of the United Kingdom’s orchid species. 

The species rapidly grew in a lush way across Rodborough Common in Gloucestershire.

Since the coldest and wet May harbored the latest flowering plants commonly yelled by the Autumn lady tresses, within the several grasslands, the distinctive spires of the white flowers in a bunch had attracted the beauty and dunes of the plains in southern England and Wales.

Adverse outcomes of the extreme weather in 2021

1. Insects entailing butterflies

Butterfly with Broken Wings | Photo Credit: Beckett Ruiz

Ironically, the number of butterflies has drastically reduced, affected by extreme weather that entails precipitation, temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and much more. 

The Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count conducted in the United Kingdom recorded the insects’ numbers very low, along with the butterfly.

The teams from the National Trust depicted that because of the cool spring, butterflies emerged later instead of the regular season.

But the study revealed that despite the reduction in the butterfly’s numbers, their range has been undisturbed. 

Such instances critically reflect the adverse effects of extreme weather because of the climate change-induced crisis in the past.

In the present and the coming days, we cannot deny that the severe weather over a year could hamper all the biodiversity resources, including flora and fauna, in their natural environments. The butterfly can have powerful effects on pollination because of the severe weather.

2. Oak species

Climatic parameters always have a crucial contribution to the proper growth and development of plant species. 

In the southern part of England, it hardly produced acorns in 2021 compared to the northern side. The acorns are rich in iron, potassium, vitamins A and E.

To produce the acorns, it is of necessity to give dry and warm weather in the northern part; instead, the southern region. 

Because of the cold climate-induced England’s southern part, the research recorded less harvesting of the acorns produced from the oak flowers.

The changing pattern in the temperature and precipitation as rainfall, snow, and humidity negatively influences the flowering of the oak plant species.

3. Toads

Two Thai toads | Photo Credit: Thomas Oxford

Indeed, the days remained terrible for the toads throughout the year in 2021 in the United Kingdom. 

On the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall, the southwestern part of mainland Britain, toad spawn spotted early in mid-November.

It’s not sure that they could be adapted to the variations resulting from climate change-induced extreme weather.

Once they get adopted, the toadlets might arise. But unfortunately, if the toadlets could not adjust to the changing environment. 

The drying of the puddles and the ponds could have detrimental effects on their existence. 

Lacking the toad population can hamper the secondary and the tertiary consumers, affecting the food chain and the food web in a natural ecosystem.

4. Ash trees

The United Kingdom lost around 30,000 ash trees in the 2021 winter, contributing to dropping off the cost of £3m. 

The fundamental cause of this enormous loss of the ash trees is the ash dieback (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus), a fungus from Asia.

As a cause of the extreme weather, the disease outbreak has targeted not only the faunal species; instead the forest trees at an extensive rate. The prolonged dry spell alters the stretch of the Dorset coast.

Since ash trees have a crucial contribution to the natural ecosystem, losing them at an unprecedented rate could have a long-term impact on the forest ecosystem, nutrient cycling, and biogeochemical cycle.

5. The meadow pipit, skylark, and snipe

The wildfires affected the meadow pipit, skylark, and snipe occurred extensively. 

Concerning the effects caused by the extreme weather, such as Storm Arwen, it wrecked several cherished species, including the champion coast redwood at Bodnant Garden in North Wales.

In sum, there was an increment in the numbers of marine mammals, especially on the south coast of Britain. In the Firth of Forth, the Shetland Islands, and the Isles of Scilly, the humpback whales have been accidentally spotted.

They are believed to be the rare category since they had no sightings since long back. Meanwhile, the two bottlenose dolphins were recorded for the first time.

6. Apple harvesting

Colorful apple harvesting of UK | Photo Credit: Horticulture Week

Within some parts of the United Kingdom, an unfavorable climatic pattern has dropped the apple blossoming. 

From the late frosts in April to late May, the country recorded very poor harvesting of the apples. It seemed to have less harvesting on the northern side of England.

7. Terns

Because of the extreme weather conditions, terns (feature image) have hugely affected 2021 in the United Kingdom. 

Since their natural habitat includes the sea, wetlands, and rivers, the unpredicted change in the climate for a long year has devastated their numbers along with their habitat.

It seems problematic to lament that the tern abandoned their nest in Norfolk at the Blakeney point. 

Because of the effects of climate change, the short-eared owl and the common gulls dominated the tern’s habitat.

But huge thanks to the neighboring colonies of the common terns and the sandwich who have assisted hugely in protecting the habitat and the population of the terns. They have a massive contribution in keeping the tern’ population at a higher rate.

8. Birds

Red parrot of Birdland, UK | Photo Credit: Steve Douglas

The changing rainfall in April and May led to inappropriate and poor nesting for multiple bird species. 

Guillemots and razorbills during the late summer were reported dead, while some cases were spotted dying along with northern England. However, the reason for their death remains unclear still.

There was the late arrival of the swallows, house martins, and the swifts. It is supposed that the primary reason for such unpredicted outcomes might be the existence of the northerly wind in the spring season.

The wind has become one of the crucial factors in determining the arrival of the bird species in several parts of the country. It influenced the breeding and the feeding pattern of the various bird species. 

Most migratory birds have been affected by the alternating temperature, pressure, and atmospheric humidity since their migration route depends on the atmospheric condition.

When the birds’ migratory route becomes high upon changing environment for a prolonged period, they cannot breed timely and affect the egg hatching.

Wrapping up

Extreme weather in the year 2021 in the United Kingdom has been fruitful to some species while it acted as a burden killer to others.

Unless we are alert in this matter, it’s sure to be the victim of the climate change-induced severe weather by all living creatures in the coming days.

Climate alteration has a severe impact worldwide. The developed country with needed technology and human resources has such issues; how safe are Arctic animals with more powerful climate impacts?

(Last Updated on December 28, 2021 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Kalpana Ghimire holds a post-graduate degree in Environmental Science from Nepal. She possesses numerous research experiences working in water pollution, community forestry, environment conservation status, and wildlife ecology. She was an internee in the Department of Environment (EIA monitoring and auditing section) under the Government of Nepal. Kalpana Ghimire is an avid traveler, an enthusiastic wildlife researcher, and has a huge passion for working in the environment sector. She loves far traveling to the natural areas, conducting field wildlife research and reading the novels.