7th January 2010: Frozen Britain – when wildlife benefits from human environmental impacts

Great Britain

From the BBC.  The image was taken by NASA’s Terra satellite showing Britain in the clutches of a cold snap.

Last night proved to be the coldest night of the winter so far, according to the BBC, with temperatures reaching -22°C (-8°F) in one village in Sutherland, in the Highlands.  Supplies of road grit are running low in some areas, with councils restricting gritting to major roads only.

Icey River Nevis by HighlandSC.

‘Icy River Nevis’ taken by HighlandSC

Wildlife is particularly hard hit by the weather.

My Winter Bird Garden with Snow ~ Worcestershire January 2010 by simball.

Photograph of a goldfinch taken by Simball

This from the BBC

[Sites like power stations] are likely to be sought out by water birds that normally forage for fish when their usual habitats of freshwater rivers and lakes become frozen over.

“Kingfishers, particularly, are having a tough time finding food at the moment,” says Grahame Madge of the UK-based Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

“Their strategy in weather likes this tends to be to move a short distance to the warmer waters near power stations or in city centres. It’s quite possible we will see higher numbers of kingfishers in London and other metropolitan centres”.

[…] Mr Madge says such cold temperatures force many birds to make a tough choice at this time of year – whether to stay put and see out the worst of the weather or use their last energy reserves to fly to warmer climes.

[…] But with freezing temperatures affecting much of Britain and northern Europe, those who do fly south hoping to find some ice-free conditions could be out of luck, he says.

“Birds will generally make short-distance movements when their energy levels are low,” he says.

“But those birds that fly even as far as southern Ireland at the moment aren’t going to find what they are looking for. They may have to go further into southern Europe.”

The RSPB has also noticed that Britain this year has become a refuge for higher numbers of bitterns, owls and other birds flying in from Scandinavia and northern Europe, hoping to find warmer temperatures.

But it is not just birds that are feeling the effects of the cold weather.

[…] At London Zoo […]  the animals are enjoying some well thought-out protection from their keepers.

Those that need it have heaters, increased levels of food and – if you are a kinkajou (a member of the racoon family) – a sleeping bag.

The cold weather has created some unlikely bedfellows, senior keeper Jim Mackie explains.

The zoo’s two Aardvarks, who arrived this year, like to snuggle up together under the heater. They share the meerkats’ enclosure, and around five meerkats have worked out that by sleeping on top of the Aardvarks they can get even closer to the heat, Mr Mackie explained.

“We’d noticed quite a lot of interaction between the two species in the summer, but we didn’t see anything like this,” he said.

“It’s been quite an exciting sight to see. We don’t think there would be this much interaction between the two in the wild.”

While the zoo’s tropical animals have preferred to stay close to the heaters in recent days, some of the inhabitants have been enjoying the snow – particularly the young ones who have never seen it before.

“The coati [another member of the racoon family] had a brilliant time, charging around in the snow and trying to find the food we’d buried,” Mr Mackie said.

“The ferrets have also had a great time digging through the snow. But they soon get tired of it, once they get cold.”

One animal that is not getting tired of the snow is Mercedes, the new polar bear at Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park, where temperatures have been as low as minus 20C.

“A lot of the wildlife here are huddling together right now and cutting down on their activity to stop burning energy,” explained the park’s Douglas Richardson.

“It’s quite the opposite with Mercedes. Right now, she’s spinning round on the pond and generally having a great time.”

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