Unseasonable warmth

I often find that when I’m at my desk I get distracted by emails, other work or tasks around the house (I work from home). Getting out to somewhere where there are fewer distractions, with a note pad & pen in my pocket, is a useful way for me to focus my mind on writing or other large projects which need planning. I also rarely go anywhere without my camera so that if I notice anything unusual I can take a snap. Yesterday is a perfect example: I had an idea in mind for this week’s blog, but having got caught up with other things I hadn’t set it out fully, so I decided to make the most of the unseasonable warmth and sunshine, and visit one of my favourite “thinking places”; my local woodland. It is the very same woodland that I wrote about for the Spring book that I told you of last week, Lady’s Wood. In short, my original blog idea is now on hold for another time. Let me explain:

Walking through the field from the car park I couldn’t help but notice that the hedge seemed greener than normal at this time of year. There were still plenty of bare branches showing off a colourful array of lichens but that wasn’t all, there were leaf buds bursting all along the hedgerow. Living in a rural village I had noticed on the way into town back in January that the Hawthorns along the edge of the football ground were a vibrant green with new growth, and I thought to myself then how unusually early it was. But somehow that was less surprising than what I was seeing here, they were always the first to come into leaf and with the mild winter there was little doubt that others would soon follow. Here though it was Blackthorn that was green, a strange sight indeed for February as it usually doesn’t come into leaf until after it has flowered in late March and early April. Further along the hedge the Blackthorn was blooming too and I came across a Marmalade Hoverfly feeding on the blossom. I couldn’t help but wonder what else I might find in the woodland.


Unseasonable warmth


Sure enough near the entrance to the wood was an Elder bush in leaf and with flower buds forming. I have found Elder with leaf buds bursting at this time of year before but never seen flower buds so early; they usually bloom from late May onward.




Continuing further into the wood I could see that the bluebells, which I was expecting to be 2-3 inches high at most, were fully carpeting the wood and as I walked round I was astonished to find some already in bloom! Not in any great number, just a few here and there. I suppose that these few are a great minority in what must be a million or more bluebells but it still made me exclaim out loud to myself… if anybody had seen me they must have thought me quite mad!





I stopped and sat on the bench in the clearing by the pond, bathed in gentle spring sunshine, my mind whirring at the extraordinary weather we have had and the even more extraordinary consequences. The weather has always been a matter for great discussion in Britain it seems, but this winter is unlike any I’ve known before. We have barely had a frost and despite the occasional threat of snow mentioned by the forecasters I haven’t seen a single flake. I didn’t doubt that climate change existed before but it seems more apparent than ever this year. It isn’t just the plants either: Dunnocks have been singing their socks off in my garden for the last fortnight and sitting here in the quiet woodland just about all I can hear, bar the odd light aircraft going over, is birdsong and Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming.

In one sense I can’t wait, spring is always a joy for me. I love winters that are really cold and crisp with heavy frosts and snow, but apart from that I often find them to be dark and gloomy. Spring is when the world around us comes to life again, the days lengthen and all sorts of wonders emerge.

In the back of my mind I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like if this is the shape of future winters. We may enjoy some aspects of the unseasonable warmth, we are undoubtedly grateful at not having to put the heating on so often, but there is far more to it than that. The storms that have battered our coasts and flooded out local communities time and again this winter are not something that we wish to face annually and yet they are inextricably linked to the weather pattern as a whole. It has been a more familiar sight than we would wish to admit over recent winters with tidal surges in Norfolk and persistent flooding in Somerset in past years adding to the list.

These events have a big impact on local wildlife too, but this is one of the last things considered when human lives and those of pets and livestock are at risk. I should point out here that I believe numerous organisations work exceedingly hard to do the best thing possible in such situations and that I have a great deal of respect for all of them. The problem is that the long term effect of these more extreme weather patterns is not fully understood. They may well pose a significant risk to some species and in the meantime, the ecosystem of an area could be affected and the balance skewed so that others may proliferate where they are less welcome. A worrying thought when our wildlife is already under threat from urbanisation, changes in agricultural practices, and persecution to name but a few. Let’s hope that it doesn’t become an annual occurrence.

Perhaps this problem would be less noticeable if there weren’t bluebells flowering in February but for me this mild winter has just further highlighted that climate change can’t be ignored. Having said that, I am an optimist at heart, so looking forward I will be hoping for a cold winter next year and enjoying this early spring while the sun shines.

On a lighter note I also feel I should point out that nature has me feeling like a fraud at the moment. The piece I wrote about Lady’s Wood for the book bears no resemblance to this year at all so far! I guess it goes to show that no matter what you think you know through years of observation, wildlife is truly wild and utterly unpredictable at times!


Phil Starkey’s views of Cornwall in Winter

I have lived in Cornwall for twenty six years after moving down from Cambridgeshire as a child with my family. We moved to the most southerly tip possible, The Lizard peninsula and to The Lizard village itself. To say that for the majority of the winter you couldn’t see the coastline for fog is rather an understatement, but when it was clearer it was quite something. I used to be able to walk from my house to the ever popular Kynance Cove and sit on the cliff tops, watching the huge waves batter the rocks in storms, golden light fall over the cove itself at the end of the day, and watch the wide range of beautiful wildlife there. From Peregrines and other wonderful birds, to Seals and even the odd Whale out to sea if you were lucky.

Kynance-Cove, Cornwall in Winter


I spent ten years on this peninsula walking the clifftops, often on my own, learning more and more about how the weather, landscape and it’s wildlife all worked in harmony, how it changed with the seasons, and I grew to know it well. As an adult I expanded the areas to which I visited in Cornwall, walking the coastal paths in all conditions and applying everything that I had learnt as a child, and this has helped me greatly with photographing it. I now know what to look out for, when and where, although at times it all doesn’t necessarily fall into place as I’d like it to. Mother Nature, as we all know, is very unpredictable.


For a landscape photographer Cornwall in winter can be a frustrating place. It’s well known that during this season it can be incredibly stormy, very wet, and also very grey, so trying to get those spectacular well lit photographs of the coastline is quite a challenge. You are forever watching the forecasts, listening to the radio, and looking at your favourite surf and tide apps on your phone to keep abreast of the ever changing conditions ready to grab your gear and pounce when you think it’s all going to come together at the right place and at the time. Quite often, it still doesn’t work out and you end up with nothing at the end of your efforts. It doesn’t put me off though, I love a good bit of stormy weather.


I have wedged myself between rocks, been buffeted as if in a rally car in an absolute gale on the cliffs, and got absolutely soaked by waves in order to get what I wanted photographically. However, one thing I must stress is that I never put myself in danger whilst doing so, and this is when using the knowledge that I’ve built up about the Cornish coast over the years comes into it’s own. Us coastal photographers are constantly faced with other issues too, like sea spray on lenses, salt on equipment, and tripods being rendered pretty much useless in the battle to shoot a sharp image. All of these things though simply add to the enjoyment, excitement, and challenge of photography in Cornwall during the winter. I for one relish it.


It’s not always stormy however, and we do get some beautiful moments of calm and tranquility. One of my most favourite spots for photographing during the winter is where I live now in Penryn, on Exchequer Quay down by the tidal river. I tend to go there before dawn to set up my gear and simply sit, wait and take it all in. If you listen you can hear the familiar ‘pip’ of Kingfishers up and down the river, and are sometimes lucky enough to get a fly past or two. Plus as the sun begins to rise, and if the tide is right, other wading birds like Little Egrets, the amber status Redshank, and red status Curlew start waking up and feeding amongst the mud flats. Another lovely thing about photographing here during the winter is that for part of the season we get the sun rising directly down the river making for some wonderful reflections and colour.


I think what I’m trying to say in this little blog is, wherever you decided to photograph, to get the most out of it that you can, you need to take the time out to learn as much as you possibly can about it. Spend time on your own in it, read about it, walk around it, and most importantly keep your eyes and ears wide open in order for your mind to collect as much information about it as possible. This knowledge will then go on to help you immensely when on a mission to photograph it.

Many thanks indeed to Alice for inviting me to write a guest blog for her website, and don’t forget to check out her fantastic work and personal blog posts also.

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed my ramblings. Regards, Phil.



Phil is a photographer from Penryn in Cornwall, and has a great love for the county that she lives in and the surrounding south west. She enjoys walking all over Cornwall with her camera, in almost all weathers, in search of it’s stunning landscapes and fantastic nature. Her interest in photography started when her son was younger, and like any parent snapped away with a little compact. This soon progressed into wanting to know more about how to shoot for a better image. After a lot of reading up she decided to buy an old 35mm film Canon 100 SLR and this is where the journey began. She now enjoys photographing anything that interests her, however landscapes are a firm favourite. See her website for more beautiful images. She also tweets at @PhilStarkey and has her own Facebook page