The summer of 2018 has proven to be one of the hottest on record in the United Kingdom and most of northern and western Europe. Weather patterns in Europe are often determined by the jet stream, which are west-to-east winds. These winds have been further north than usual this summer causing a stationary high-pressure weather system to leave this area of the world scorching.
Not only are the temperatures in most of Europe hotter than normal, but the weather has also become more fitful, with droughts specifically causing great concern. The hot and dry weather patterns combined have left ecosystems and thus wildlife suffering everywhere. Creatures of all shapes and sizes have been affected from large cattle to the tiniest of insects. The intense heat and lack of rain causes any natural water to be evaporated consequently forcing animals to leave their natural habitats in search for water.
“Only the most mobile animals escape and, of course, we are in peak breeding period for many,” stated Tim Mitcham, regional director of conservation at the Wildlife Trust. And to add fuel to the fire, the most vulnerable animals in a heat wave are often those dependent on particular habitats and those that cannot easily escape the temperatures. A prime example of this situation is what is happening to grazing cattle in Switzerland.
In Switzerland, cattle are led to high pastures in the summer to graze, but the drought and heat wave have left many of them stranded without water. Fortunately, the country’s helicopter association and the Swiss Air Force have been able to aid the farmers and these suffering cattle by transporting tens of thousands of gallons of water every week in order to keep herds alive. Often 30 to 40 trips a day are made transporting 250 gallons each run. This high-stress and devastating situation has left the Swiss concerned for the future especially because the herds have been getting water from these small watering holes for thousands of years.
The vegetation all over Europe is also being greatly impacted leading to large wildfires like those that happened in the United Kingdom killing many ground nesting birds and small mammals. The animals and insects that depend on this vegetation which is dying from these fires or dying from simply drying out are often left with no habitat to live in for protection and/or no food to feed themselves and their young. Animals such as voles and hedgehogs living in the UK prefer to make their homes in the leaves and brush; but as the vegetation has diminished, they are left with nowhere to escape the sweltering sun. Caterpillars are dying off because the plants they eat have died off and this in turn affects the butterfly populations for years to come.
Sadly, the examples of wildlife both on land and in water being affected by this weather can go on for great length. But what is to be done about drastic weather occurrences such as the one Europe is facing? It is hopeful to know countries like Switzerland with their stranded cattle are willing to expend resources on saving these animals and other examples exist as well. In Germany, many of the sapling trees have been hit hard from the drought and cities are calling on citizens to help local trees. People have been seen dragging garden hoses from their homes and lifting pails of water to nearby trees.
Climate scientists from Europe and the United States both agree that this heat wave is a warning of what our planet will have to deal with in decades to come if carbon emissions are not sharply reduced. Jack Williams, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin, added to this consensus by saying, “…species will experience heat stress; migrate away from periods of heat; or in the case of trees, start dying.”