Garden wildlife has got going extra early this year


As the latest results from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch, which includes date from Derbyshire, reveal, much of our garden wildlife has got going extraordinarily early this year.

Results from this weekly survey make interesting reading and highlight that some species became active a month earlier than was the case last year, when snow and cold delayed the start of spring.

Common Frog - John Harding/BTOWe often see the appearance of certain species as a sign that winter is over. However, due to the unseasonably mild temperatures of earlier this year, people were reporting some species to the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey much earlier than expected, and well before spring had truly sprung.

One species that was seen far earlier in the year than is usual was the Hedgehog, the first individuals of which were being reported during late February, almost a month earlier than was the case in 2013, and up to two weeks earlier than in any of the last five years.

In contrast, amphibians, such as Common Frog and Smooth Newt, were not seen earlier than usual, but there appeared to be something of a mass emergence, with a surge in reports from participants’ gardens. From early March, both species were seen in more Garden BirdWatch gardens than they have been for the last five years.

It was butterflies, however, that demonstrated the most dramatic patterns of emergence. Small Tortoiseshells not only came out of hibernation a couple of weeks early, they were also seen in incredible numbers compared to previous years, with 23% of Garden BirdWatch gardens reporting them. In comparison, the previous highest emergence peak was 12% in 2012. Brimstone also had a very good start to the year. The first few individuals were not seen much earlier this year than in previous years but the peak emergence in 2013 was just 4% compared to 21% of gardens reporting them in March this year.

Clare Simm, from the Garden BirdWatch team, commented: “As you can see, Garden BirdWatch is not just about birds. Our volunteers provide us with vital information on other taxa too, helping us to understand how important gardens are as a habitat for all wildlife. It’s too early to tell how the early emergence of these species will affect them, but it is an exciting contrast to the patterns of emergence that we saw last year.”