Happy spring!

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Spring officially starts on the 20th March this year. That’s what people reckon anyway, with our neatly segregated calendar and clock change policy.

Springtime is of course characterised by growth and greenery, with birdsong in the air and fragrant flowers attracting bees and butterflies. Animals leave hibernation, migrant birds arrive and it’s all about the babies.

Forget the human calendar; wildlife reckons that spring starts right now. After all, it is a slow transition, not a date in the diary. Its stirrings are already well underway beneath the soil, in the sap of the trees and within the depths of the hedgerows.

Almost imperceptibly, the days are lengthening and this triggers change. One of the first outward signs is the snowdrops which will soon add their flash of white to the blank winter canvases of our woodlands. Look closely and you’ll see that on trees the buds are preparing to burst out. Soon, the song of birds such as song thrushes will join the robin’s lone voice.

Phenologists study the start of spring and look for key signs such as the first bumble bee or frog spawn. The dates of certain events in nature have been recorded for centuries and there are clear patterns over the years, despite the odd blip for unusual weather conditions.  

The impact of climate change means that the signs of spring are creeping ever earlier. For example, the creamy white May blossom of the Hawthorn needs a rebrand as it is now more likely to be April blossom. Frog and toad spawn are now often seen as early as February, which means that the frogs have been up to frisky spring behaviour back in December.

The green of our unofficial national flower, the bluebell, is showing in our woodlands, heralding heavenly purple carpets. The threat of rising temperatures means not just earlier flowering for bluebells, but a possible loss of this British wonder as it could fail to adapt sufficiently to warmer weather and would be out-competed by other plants.

Nature is pretty good at perfect pairings. Alongside the nettles we have soothing dock leaves and when the apples ripen, the blackberries are ready too for that perfect crumble. As the blue tit chicks hatch, the caterpillars emerge, providing perfect food for growing babies, and when the hibernating bee wakes, it coincides with the flowering of nectar plants.

However, in the shifting sands of climate change things can get muddled. This perfect synchronicity is lost as age old patterns die. How much can nature adapt? Will different species change their habits at varying speeds? These are the questions which we cannot truly answer.

Look outside at all the fragility and strength. As humans, we often feel weak and powerless compared to the falling snow, the battering winds and the tides that flood our homes. Nature is indeed such a great force, but we must never forget how much it is at our mercy. 

First published in the EDP and EADT on 10th January 2014

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