Weird warm spell in February prompts wildlife to spring into action too early

Wild daffodils

The warm weather we had this February has caused lots of wildlife to appear earlier than it normally would.

peacock butterfly on dry ground in the sun - copyright Zsuzsanna Bird

Peacock butterfly © Zsuzsanna Bird

We’ve had loads of reports of spring butterflies already being on the wing: small tortoiseshell, red admiral, peacock and painted lady.

Most of these will have overwintered and emerged early due to the warm, sunny weather but it’s probable that painted lady butterflies have migrated from overseas. 

image of a Red admiral butterfly resting on ivy plant - copyright Richard Burkmar

Red admiral © Richard Burkmar

We’ve also had a report of a large dragonfly on the wing at our Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve.

This type of dragonfly would normally stay as a nymph until later in the summer so this sighting is very unusual and again this dragonfly may have travelled here from continental Europe.

small tortoiseshell butterfly resting on a rock - copyright Neil Aldridge

Small tortoiseshell butterfly © Neil Aldridge

A big concern is that wildlife becomes out of sync with each other, so there might not be enough nectar to support bees at this time
Joe Murphy, Senior Reserves Officer
Cumbria Wildlife Trust
Common lizards on boardwalk with yellow flowers

Common Lizard © Derek Farman

Common lizards have been spotted at our Foulshaw Moss and Hutton Roof Crags nature reserves, which is very early and this may be a record early sighting.

An early purple orchid has been spotted on Cunswick Scar and wild daffodils are flowering on the Kendal bypass.  

We’d expect both of these plant species to be flowering in April.

Buff tailed bumblebee - copyright Penny Frith

Buff-tailed bumblebee © Penny Frith

Bumblebees have also emerged early.

It’s difficult to say what impact the early spring weather could have on wildlife in the long term.

A big concern is that wildlife becomes out of sync with each other, so there might not be enough nectar to support bees at this time.

Bees could also be seriously affected if this weather is followed by  a cold snap.

Red tailed bumblebee - copyright Penny Frith

Red tailed bumblebee ©Penny Frith

The good news is that there are plenty of practical ways we can help the animals in our gardens.

You can provide the food, drink and shelter that nature is not yet ready to give...

  • Ensure there's plenty of energy-rich bird food in bird feeders.
  • Keep water bowls topped up.
  • Avoid cutting back any hedges, ivy growth or other vegetation where birds may be starting to build nests.
  • Be careful when you cut the grass for the first time. Hedgehogs may be hiding in the longer sections of grass.
  • Put small amounts of fish-free dog food down for hedgehogs. Retain a wild corner in your garden where they can nest.
  • Hedgehogs can only enter gardens where there are small entry points under gates or fences. Make sure there is plenty of room for them to enter your garden or green space.