Early Spring and the Science of Phenology

As February 2019 begins to move towards March is has been hard to ignore the increase in the daily temperature resulting in coats and jackets remaining in cloak rooms to be replaced by t-shirts, shorts and flip flops for the truly brave.  Accompanying this change in attire has been the smells and sights of Spring arriving early.  A fragrant perfume of flowers beginning to bloom and grass being mown, a blanket of vibrant spring flowers emerging and trees budding their infant blossom.  Birds and insects have begun to build nests and wake up, swallows have been sighted across the country and bees and lady birds have been spotted as early as Valentine’s day.  

The problem with such an early Spring is that if March, when true Spring is expected to commence, has effectively swapped places with February, then the birds and insects may find themselves struggling through a cold and wet month, battling to survive as food becomes scarce and night time temperatures plummet.  This will then impact their ecosystem as food chains struggle and nests built early in the year on the promise of a warm Spring find themselves empty.

As we begin to experience  increased fluctuations in weather patterns it is vital that data is recorded and analysed to ascertain the causes and effects of these anomalies, especially the impact of climate change, and this is known as ‘phenology’.  This is “the study of the timing of natural events, especially in relation to climate … Historical data proves how responsive species are to changing temperatures”.  As part of the Woodland Trust, Nature’s Calendarencourages the public to record signs of natural happenings beginning earlier than expected to track these changes.  Through data collected and already analysed, Nature’s Calendar have determined that the “overall period of active plant growth each year is lengthening’ and that across Europe Spring “is now advancing by 2.5 days per decade”.  Indicating that if this pattern remains, in twenty years Spring will be five days longer and in forty years up to ten, suggesting that in most of our life times these recent temperatures and early Spring will become the norm.

It is essential therefore that as the narrative of the Anthropocene continues to evolve we strive to become active participants not only in reducing our anthropogenic impact, but also by recording these natural happenings to ensure a true pattern can be established. Please visit https://naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk/add-a-record/to view which species have been recorded already this year and how you can record your own.

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