With the New Year barely put behind us, you may think it a little early to be thinking about signs of spring. You would be right, but the problem is that it seems some of the flowers don’t seem to realise that they are making their appearance far too early. About a week ago I was travelling into the town centre of Tamworth, and passed a patch of daffodils that were already beginning to poke their stems above the leaf litter. We haven’t had any bad spells of frost so far this winter, but I'm sure they won’t be far off. The forecast for the near future seems to be staying true to the mild weather we have been having of late, but it can’t be long now before the cold weather systems bring the snow and frost. Not only do they carry with them the promise of bringing the UK to a standstill, but they also put any early bloomers at risk. It makes me wonder about the implications this has on our wildlife.
These images of plant shoots starting to develop was taken just one day before this post was published. They are at risk of being damaged during the first heavy frost or snowfall that falls during the remainder of the winter season. The winters sun is still low in the sky, and there's something odd about seeing signs of spring when it still feels so cold out.
The reason that I find the potential risk to flowering plants of such concern comes down to those that depend on them for food. The plight of the bumblebee is becoming fairly well known now as their numbers have caused some concern over recent years, with decreases in their numbers corresponding to the decrease in the abundance of flowering plants. In rural areas, bees gain the majority of their energy from the nectar of wild flowers (though these are also in decline), and it is the planted flowers around towns and cities that help to provide urban populations of pollinators with a food source. If last years’ prolonged snowy spell were to happen again this year, I dread to think what it could do to the flowering plants and therefore populations of pollinators in areas where plants are cropping up so early.
I’ve heard from many other sources that even some of our bird species this year are jumping the gun, with eggs already being found in nests by bird ringers and nature enthusiasts. This is bad news for any individuals that decide to lay eggs now, as there is little in the way of food at the minute to not only feed chicks (should eggs even get to the point of successfully hatching), but to provide the required energy to the females to produce the eggs in the first place. Here at the RSPB, we are big on encouraging people to provide bird feed for the birds in their neighbourhood, but it could be even more important than you think!
There is little we can do for birds that are laying eggs early, but it is important that we use this as an early warning system. It is clear evidence that birds are having to adapt their behaviours to changing environmental conditions, and along with changes seen in other species across the globe (such as the migration behaviour of the Monarch butterfly), will prove to be a very important way for us to determine how the Earth’s climate is changing and affecting various locations. I would rather deal with what Winter has to offer over the next month or so, rather than worry about something that doesn't typically hit headlines until it is upon us, but that is the problem. We don’t really think about the issue until it’s already happening. It would be better to start taking notice and planning more in advance for these events, in order to do what we can to help any species that could be at risk.