Wildlife becomes a victim of floods

The terrible loss of human life and homes has been well documented, but the damage to bird, mammal, fish and insect populations associated with the destruction of their habitats will also have a long-term impact on the ecosystem.

Moles, hedgehogs, badgers, mice, earthworms and a host of insects and birds are the unseen victims of recent floods, storms and heavy rains.

As soon as the water level began to subside in England, environmentalists reported that about 600 carcasses of birds – auks, kittiwakes and gulls – washed up on the south coast, as well as 250 seals that drowned in Norfolk, Cornwall and the Channel Islands. Another 11 seabirds have been reported dead off the coast of France.

Relentless storms hit the country. The animals can usually cope with bad weather, but are currently deprived of food supplies and are dying in large numbers. David Jarvis, director of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said his organization is heavily involved in seal rescue: “We have made 88 sorties since January to save marine life, the vast majority of the animals affected were seal pups.”

Several seal colonies were wiped out and hundreds were found along the beaches dead, injured or too weak to survive. Among the hardest hit areas are Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cornwall.

The damage was done to 48 of the most important wildlife sites in the UK, including a number of national reserves. Tim Collins, England’s coastal wildlife specialist, said: “It is estimated that around 4 hectares of protected coastal wildlife areas in England have been inundated.

Particularly affected areas include coastal grazing areas and swamps, salt lagoons and reed beds. All of these sites are of national importance, and 37 of them are also of international importance.

The scale and extent of the impact of the flood on many species is still being assessed, but wintering animals are expected to be the most affected.

Voles drown if the flood is fast. If it were relatively slow, they would be able to withdraw, but this would bring them into conflict with their neighbors, they would fight and injure each other.

Mark Jones of the International Humane Society said many other animals were also affected: “Some badger families have almost certainly been wiped out entirely.”

Bumblebees, earthworms, snails, beetles and caterpillars were all at risk from flooding and wetlands. We can expect fewer butterflies this year.

Mold is a deadly enemy of insects. This means there may be fewer larvae that the birds feed on.

Kingfishers who catch river fish have suffered greatly because rains and floods have brought so much silt that the waters have become too muddy. Wading birds such as snipe will have a hard time if flooding continues during their nesting season. Seabirds died by the thousands during the violent storm.

The floods have claimed thousands of tons of fertile topsoil, but if they continue, the consequences could be much worse.

After a few weeks underwater, the plants begin to decompose, leading to oxygen deficiency and the release of poisonous gases. If flood waters have been contaminated with pesticides or other toxic industrial chemicals, the effects can be devastating.

But it’s not all bad news. Even some fish species were affected. Nearly 5000 fish, for example, were found dead in fields near Gering upon Thames in Oxfordshire after the river flooded them and then the water subsided. “When floods happen, you can also lose fry, they will just be swept away by the water,” said Martin Salter of the Fishing Corporation.

Hundreds of ancient trees – including 300-year-old oaks and beeches – have fallen in storms over the past three months. The National Trust reports that some areas have not seen such damage since the great storm of 1987. The Forestry Commission estimates that St. Jude’s storm in November killed 10 million trees.

Earthworms that hibernate and breathe through their skin have been hit hard by the heaviest winter rains ever recorded in the UK. They love moist soil, but are highly vulnerable to waterlogging and flooding. Tens of thousands of worms suffocated during floods, after which shrews, moles, some beetles and birds were left without food.  


Leave a Reply