Belfast Telegraph

Hot summer meant 2013 was a great year for Strangford Lough's eider duck and Co Down Arctic terns

Tom Bawden

A prolonged winter and freezing spring may have got the year off to a bad start, but the hot summer helped ensure that 2013 was an excellent year for wildlife.

That is the verdict of the National Trust's Matthew Oates, one of the country's top nature specialists, who described 2013 as "the best wildlife year since 2006 and one of the most remarkable in living memory".

It was a record year, in particular, for eider duck at Strangford Lough in Co Down. For years, the eider was one of our relatively rare seabirds and it's still on the UK's Amber List – species that are of European concern.

But, in just 10 years, eider numbers on Strangford have rocketed – from about 20 pairs in 2003 to 350 pairs this summer.

Meanwhile, on the Copeland Islands, off the Co Down coast, no more than 10 young Arctic terns fledged in the six years up to 2011.

However, this year, it was Ireland's most productive tern colony, with 1,200 breeding pairs and at least 700 fledglings.

Relatively warm temperatures also brought back a host of butterflies that have been absent in recent years, including the clouded yellow, the silver-Y moth, the red admiral and the painted lady.

The common blue, which is completely reliant on temperature, also had a good year.

Matthew Oates said: "The way our butterflies and other sun-loving insects bounced back was utterly amazing, showing nature's powers of recovery at their best.

"Many birds and mammals also recovered well from late spring.

"What was unique about this year is the way it turned itself round. The recent years were so dreadful and everything was spiralling down and it rained and rained and rained. It started badly, then we had a late spring and the coldest March for 50 years. But then we had a wonderful July. And the way nature fought back was miraculous; it went into overdrive. It's a rags-to-riches story."

It was also a great autumn, with the greatest abundance of fruit, seed and berries since 2006, with many fruits showing unusually high yields.

But 2013 wasn't all fun and games for wildlife, with the cold, late spring proving to be a very difficult time. Many summer migrant birds, such as swallows and martins, and residents, such as owls, suffered badly.

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