If a stranger starts chatting to you in the pub, on the bus or at the station it won’t be long before the topic of the weather crops up.

It’s hardly out of the news these days with storms and floods in winter and drought in summer. Humans and their careless habitat destruction are the greatest threats to wildlife but not far behind comes our weather. Whether it’s floods washing away waterbird nests or swamping rabbit burrows, strong winds bringing down trees where owls, blue tits or squirrels breed, or sun drying out ponds where amphibians live, severe weather changes can devastate British wildlife.

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Mild winters bring problems for Mountain Hares. Smaller than the more common Brown Hare, it lives mainly on Scottish mountaintops and has a neat camouflage trick of turning its grey-brown summer fur white in winter to become invisible against the snow. If there’s no snow the Mountain Hare sticks out like a sore thumb, becoming easy prey for Golden Eagles and Buzzards.

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Ptarmigan by Tony Dunstan

The same goes for its Scottish mountain neighbour the Ptarmigan, a bird which adopts white winter plumage, and northern-based Stoats that also moult white. It’s easy to imagine Mountain Hares and Ptarmigan becoming extinct and the Stoat being restricted to the south if our winters continue so mild with little snow.

Many birds who visit Britain in winter haven’t bothered turning up this year. Their often frozen continental homes have continued to provide plenty of food like seeds usually inaccessible because of ice and snow.

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Temperatures in capitals like Moscow, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo and Berlin were all way above zero for most of January and February when long sub-zero spells are the norm.

So birds who visit from those areas like Smew, Brambling, Redpoll, Siskin and the spectacular pink, black, white, red and yellow Waxwing are harder to find here than usual. A few years ago I watched a flock of 60 Waxwings greedily devouring berries on trees in a Northfleet housing estate. As I write there seem to be fewer in the whole of England this year.

Global warming will drastically alter our cast of winter wildlife and not necessarily for the better.