Neil Fletcher takes a regular look at the everyday wildlife at Woods Mill, headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and at his home in nearby Henfield.
OK the thermometer said 20 degrees, and I know that's not a Met Office approved reading, what with it being under the porch and warmed by the radiating bricks from the house, but nevertheless, it was sooo warm last Wednesday. It really brought the insects out, and my winter-flowering heather was buzzing. As a rule, I like my garden flowers to be at least European in origin, unless they're naturalised and long-established like evening primrose which came originally from North America. I'm more than happy to accommodate the South African heather though, as it flowers in January and February, and provides pretty much the only source of nectar around this time of year.
These super-warm winter days are bad news for insects. They should be hibernating, but if they're woken from their slumbers by this warmth then they have to find at least as much energy from nectar as they expend in buzzing around looking for it. That's not all, those insects spending the winter as eggs or grubs or pupae buried in the soil get clobbered by warm weather as fungi and bacteria can attack them - a proper cold winter keeps all that at bay.
It felt like April. My heather had a small tortoiseshell, honey bees, a white-tailed bumble bee and loads of hover flies all over it. Considering that all these insects must also have woken up where there wasn't any nectar-rich winter flowers around, then there are a lot of creatures that aren't going to make it through to spring.