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Slugs lay claim to 2012

Daily Mail
Monday, December 31, 2012

FOR gardeners, 2012 has been a sorry, soggy affair, with rain wreaking havoc in vegetable patches and flower beds.

However, it's been an annus mirabilis ... for slugs.

The wettest summer in a century created the perfect conditions for the unwanted garden visitors.

One particular winner has been the Spanish super slug - larger than our native variety, and more worryingly, a much faster breeder.

Snails have also thrived, according to a National Trust survey of plants and wildlife in 2012. Wild orchids have flourished too.

There have been reports of "stunning flowerings" by native species such as the green-winged orchid throughout England and Wales.

But a year that switched from a hosepipe ban in the warmest March since 1910 to the rainiest April on record has been a nightmare for gardeners.

Downpours washed away the year's fruit blossoms and devastated the autumn harvest, especially of English apples and late berries such as sloes and holly.

Bats and many water mammals have also suffered, and animal centres have been inundated with underfed hedgehogs late in the year, despite the abundance of slugs.

However, it was an excellent year for seal pups on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast and at Blakeney Point in Norfolk, with numbers at both sites breaking the 1,000 barrier.

Short-eared owls have also fared well, along with waxwings, a crested bird about the size of a starling.

But many nests were abandoned due to bad weather and a shortage of food. Cliff-nesting species have also suffered a great deal of storm damage.

It was a bad summer for many bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators.

But chalkhill blue and red admiral butterflies were happy exceptions and did very well.

Poor insect numbers have left flowers struggling to bear fruit in the wet weather, with a knock-on effect for birds and animals that depend on them for food.

Deadly ash dieback has also devastated woodlands in 2012, threatening to claim millions of trees.

"This has been a highly polarised year,' said Matthew Oates, naturalist at the National Trust, commenting on the survey of flora and fauna.

"In general, plants and slugs were the big winners and insects the big losers.

"If there will be a legacy of 2012, we are going to see it in some of our insect populations.

"Bees, butterflies, moths, even grasshoppers are all warmth-loving creatures and have all been impacted by the wet weather.

"They will all need a good summer to recover.

"Our gardeners will also need some long, dry spells in 2013 to help get rid of the slugs, which aren't too fond of droughts."

Explaining the success of the Spanish super slug, Mr Oates said: 'They are a new invasive species brought into the country by accident.

'The concern is that they are very fast breeders, and as they come from further south, are more resistant to dry weather.'

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