It may have been a miserable year for most of us – but wild birds have thrived amid the peace and freedom from crowds of visitors in repeated lockdowns.
The National Trust’s annual review of wildlife reveals terns, falcons and cuckoos all appear to have benefited from the effects of lockdown.
Many birds are braver, more widespread and have found new nesting sites, undeterred by large numbers of visitors who may previously have scared them away.
Wildlife winners of the pandemic include a pair of peregrine falcons spotted nesting at Corfe Castle – a surviving fortress of the English Civil War in Dorset, which was partially demolished by the Parliamentarians in 1646.
Wildlife winners of the pandemic include a pair of peregrine falcons spotted nesting at Corfe Castle
The falcons, which target isolated and inaccessible places, nested 70 feet up on the Keep walls of the 12th century castle ruins, successfully rearing three chicks in the spring and early summer.
It was the first time a pair of the raptors had built a nest at the site since the 1980s.
The absence of people at Blakeney Point, a nature reserve in Norfolk, was a boost for the tern colony, helping the birds to their most successful breeding season for 25 years, with more than 200 little tern chicks fledging.
Blakeney Point has the largest breeding colony of terns – graceful seabirds which can live to beyond 30 years old but abandon their nests when they are disturbed.
Meanwhile a tenant farmer on Osterley, a Georgian estate run by the National Trust in west London, heard the first cuckoo call in more than 20 years.
The cuckoos, heard because of the rare lack of noise from planes at Heathrow and busy traffic on the M4, are thought to have returned because human disturbance was more limited during the pandemic.
Storms in June coupled with high tides and strong winds hit the little tern colony at Long Nanny in Northumberland, with nests washed away
Ben McCarthy, head of conservation and ecology restoration at the National Trust, said: ‘During the spring nationwide lockdown, when there was less traffic and fewer people, we all heard deafening levels of birdsong and witnessed historic monuments and formal gardens colonised by wildlife.
‘Nature’s recovery is still a long way off, but the fact that people noticed what was around them during lockdown is something to be welcomed and a first step in nature’s recovery.’
He added: ‘When the pandemic is finally over, we want people to keep hold of this renewed connection with nature and help nature’s recovery by sticking to paths, keeping dogs under control, maintaining a respectful distance to wildlife and taking any litter home.’
Among the wildlife thought to have flourished during this year’s crisis were a buzzard seen visiting the orangery at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, curlews heard in the normally busy Peak District, and grey partridges seen in the car park at Wimpole – a working estate near Cambridge which has been farmed for more than 2,000 years.
While the partridges have been seen on the estate for a few years now, due to nature-friendly farming methods, the lack of visitors is thought to have made them bold enough to venture into the car park.
But a mild winter, with very little snow, was good for the Dartford warbler, which has seen its numbers increase from just 11 pairs after two particularly cold winters in the 1960s to more than 3,000 pairs in the early 2000s
The wildlife review of 2020 highlights winners and losers from climate change and weather events.
Storms in June coupled with high tides and strong winds hit the little tern colony at Long Nanny in Northumberland, with nests washed away.
Barn owls did not have a good breeding year at Gunby, Lincolnshire, as June’s heavy rain is thought to have hit their field vole prey.
But a mild winter, with very little snow, was good for the Dartford warbler, which has seen its numbers increase from just 11 pairs after two particularly cold winters in the 1960s to more than 3,000 pairs in the early 2000s.
It was seen for the first time in 20 years at the Long Mynd in Shropshire.
The warm, dry spring saw many fruit trees come into blossom two weeks earlier than normal, and warm winds brought record numbers of migrant moths from the continent in summer and early autumn.
The warm, dry spring saw many fruit trees come into blossom two weeks earlier than normal, and warm winds brought record numbers of migrant moths from the continent in summer and early autumn
This included the Clifden nonpareil, which has returned to southern England after becoming extinct in the 1960s and has now been recorded at its namesake Cliveden, Berkshire, where it was first found in the UK in the 1700s.
But the prolonged, warm and dry weather put ash trees under further stress, making them more susceptible to ash dieback.
The Trust had to remove 40,000 ash trees, including many felled in the Fishpool Valley, within the Croft Castle Estate in north-west Herefordshire.
Heather, which was already affected by drought conditions last year, was more susceptible to dieback caused by the heather beetle.
Mr McCarthy said: ‘Changes to the seasons and changeable weather can play havoc with our wildlife, knocking the delicate balance of nature out of kilter with serious knock-on effects for us all.’