I saw the first of this year’s daffodils, often a herald of spring, a little over two weeks ago. Er in January?
On last week’s Winterwatch a cameraman had captured a woodpecker drumming in the Cairngorms – behaviour more usually associated with the vernal season when the woodpecker is looking for territory (or a mate!).
And they’re not the only indications that, in the UK at least, we might be a little ahead of schedule. The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar is a citizen science project that asks the public to track the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife in their area. By January the organisation had already been notified of more than 60 signs of spring activity, starting as early as November.
From a tortoiseshell butterfly, ordinarily seen around mid-April, spotted in Merthyr Tydfil on Christmas Day to a red admiral observed in Cambridgeshire in mid-December, from blue tits checking out a nesting box on Boxing Day to red-tailed bumblebees – you could be forgiven for thinking that we’ve bypassed the bleak midwinter altogether this year and bounced straight to spring. Last week’s cold spell may have temporarily put the brakes on the sap rising so to speak but expect all the budding and spawning to resume if mild conditions continue.
Paying the price
Last year a study by the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, based on satellite images, found that shorter winters and longer summers are taking their toll on plants in the northern hemisphere. According to Dr Wolfgang Buermann who headed up the research: “We can see that when there has been an early warm spring, plant productivity pays the price later in the year.”
It would seem that valuable resources needed for plant growth such as water are not available in abundance and when consumed early in the growing season are lacking later on. The study’s startling conclusion was that the consequences of global warming may be even more dramatic than previously calculated and are changing how many ecosystems function.
It’s all too easy to feel both disheartened and overwhelmed at some of the apocalyptic climate change narratives currently emerging. Take a bow David Wallace-Wells. But it’s hard to ignore the scientific evidence.
The past four years have been the hottest on record and it’s thought that CO2 levels have not been as high as at present for 3-5 million years. Despite the plethora of low-tech affordable sustainable energy solutions to suit both industrialised and industrialising nations, our carbon emissions are still rising.
This year the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is set to rise by a near-record amount according to climate scientists at the Met Office. Our continued fixation with fossil fuels as well as deforestation gathering pace in parts of South America, together with a return to El Niño-like warm dry conditions in the tropics, all mean that the world’s natural carbon sinks – which have been mopping up around half of our emissions to date – are less resilient.
Is there any good news?
I didn’t want this to be yet another piece lamenting a lost Eden,and there is plenty of information in the public domain already to guide individuals to make choices that limit their carbon footprint and consumption patterns. As well as organisations to support which are lobbying for swift action on the environment and lasting change.
For me there is solace to be found in small triumphs. I wrote last time about the success of some of the UK’s rewilding schemes to reintroduce lost species and since then I’ve read that the large blue, one of our most enigmatic butterflies and previously considered extinct, had its best ever summer last year and that numbers at Collard Hill in Somerset are thought to have doubled. The flip side is that last summer’s heatwave also led to a rise in the more vicious notch-horned Cleg-fly…
And a glimmer of hope shines brightly in the next generation who are stepping into the breach to try and clear up the unholy mess that their elders have made. Consider this heartfelt plea to preserve biodiversity from the 15-year-old daughter of the best-selling nature writer Robert Macfarlane. The young shall inherit the earth but that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook!
Photo by David Jakab on Pexels.com