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.
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!