Monday, January 20, 2014
Spring has sprung a surprise – it is coming earlier than before.
Norfolk landowner Robert Marsham began recording spring species and events in 1736 on his family estate. He called them his Indications of Spring.
At his Stratton Strawless home, near Aylsham, he continued to note down significant dates for the next 62 years recording some 27 natural events for more than 20 animals and plants.
These included tree leafing times and the arrival of migrant birds.
Marsham’s main reason for keeping these records was to improve the timber production on his estate and he was one of the first to carry out repeated experiments on root cutting, trenching and bark scrubbing.
The mild weather has led to a surge in spring – with the Woodland Trust recording the earliest sightings of snowdrops, hazel tree and song thrush in the county in more than a decade.
There have been six sightings in Diss, Wereham, near Downham Market, Ditchingham and Norwich so far this year, according to reports sent to the Trust’s nature’s calendar project, which monitors the changing seasons.
Between 2000 and 2013 the earliest sightings were January 27 for snowdrops, February 5 for hazel and February 12 for song thrush – which could make this year the mildest year yet.
Nature waking up ahead of schedule has become more common over the last decade.
Kate Lewthwaite, the Woodland Trust nature’s calendar project manager, said climate scientists were predicting more “stop-start” springs, in which the UK could see very mild conditions in January and then a return to more typical weather later in the season.
This time last year the county was covered in snow with temperatures reaching as low as -10C.
Dr Lewthwaite said: “People may be surprised to see such spring-like activity in January, but Woodland Trust data confirms that it has become more and more common over the last decade or so.
“What this highlights is the importance of having diverse, inter-connected habitats which allow species to react to any changes in climate and adjust accordingly.
"“People may be suprised to see such spring-like activity in January but... it has become more and more common over the last decade or so"
“With habitats coming under ever greater threat and fragmentation, the pressure on our native flora and fauna will only increase.”
But the current mildness is not good news for species which are fooled into early activity as a result of the mild weather, such as frogs.
They could start breeding and could be vulnerable to freezing conditions which are not uncommon in February or March.
John Heaser, from Norwich’s Toad Watch group said the news that spring may have arrived early was worrying.
Many toads are killed when they cross busy roads at night to get back to their breeding pond in spring, as they spend the winter further away.
As the temperatures increase to around 10C, toads begin to emerge earlier and can be in danger.