LONDON — The storms and flooding in the UK over the past few weeks hasn’t just damaged homes and cars, but also wildlife and ecosystems too.
Bumblebees, beetles and caterpillars are at risk of dying at greatly elevated rates through drowning and disturbed hibernations, while earthworms, snails and beetles along the River Thames will be “decimated,” Matt Shardlow, head of the Buglife insect charity, told The Independent.
The negative impact on earthworms could be particularly problematic for the food chain, reducing the food supply for song thrushes and blackbirds in the spring and summer.
Reports of seabirds washing ashore have come in from all over the country as they become exhausted trying to battle the more than 120-kilometer winds and rains. The waves push the birds’ prey into deeper waters where they’re harder to catch, says Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Centre Officer Marc Smith.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has issued guidelines for people who find either live or dead seabirds washed up, recommending that the public neither touch nor attempt to rescue them. Instead, they advise the public to contact the RSPCA or RSPB.
Kittiwakes, cormorants and smaller seabirds such as oystercatchers and turnstones are among the birds found, but the BBC also reports that many puffins have also washed up, leaving volunteers cleaning up beaches over the weekend visibly upset.
According to the Cornish Wildlife Trust, 29 birds, 14 seals and 9 dolphins have been recorded dead on the shores of Cornwall in the last four weeks.
“The high tides and stormy conditions have meant that many of the beaches the seals use to rest and recoup are covered with water, and there have been reports from around the county of young seals being washed into ridiculous places, up cliffs, into harbours and even into people’s gardens,” the Cornwall Seal Group’s Sue Sayer said.
Hedgehogs, badgers and voles are also being found and rescued, but until the water levels subside, the scale of the impact cannot be fully determined. “Some setts will almost certainly have been damaged or flooded out completely, meaning that whole badger families could be disturbed,” said Mark Jones from Humane Society International. “There will be cubs in those setts right now, and it’s possible that some cubs will have drowned too.”
On Monday 10 cows were rescued after being marooned on an island in a Berkshire field, while in Leicester a Facebook page was created to highlight the conditions of stranded horses. Farrier Mark Johnson created the page after driving past the field where a dead horse was surrounded by others dying. “It was a horrendous sight. I first saw what I thought was a horse lying down in the field, which was very strange because they would normally try to stay on their feet when it is so wet.”
The owner claimed that the horses were “fine,” and the police have said there was no intentional animal neglect.
It will take some time for the waters to recede, but it will take even longer for a full assessment of the true cost of flooding on wildlife and the environment.
Main photo: The ducks in Henley-on-Thames swimming in their extended pond — parttimepriest via Instagram.