For those who work out in the ‘great outdoors’ a continuing trend in seasonal change has become apparent. Whereas fifty years ago night frosts and chilly weather could be expected from September onwards nowadays the weather is generally considerably milder and often pleasantly warm in the run-up to Christmas. Of course, this makes for very nice working conditions but clearly changes are afoot. In spite of somewhat chilly temperatures in January the figures suggest that our winters are now 1.7 degrees warmer than previously and this is generally confirmed by the appearance of some species earlier in the year than around fifty years ago.
For those with an interest in countryside matters and who are of a certain age the changes are, indeed, most noticeable and striking. Signs of spring were eagerly awaited and watched for and in due course they appeared. The furry white flowers of the ‘pussy’ willow or sallow and, of course, the long butter-coloured male ‘lambs-tail’ catkins of the hazel accompanied by tiny ‘sea anemone’ female flowers that are so very easily overlooked. The hazel has evolved to be wind pollinated because there should be so few insects abroad at flowering time to do the job. How fortunate, for nowadays no sooner is the Christmas wrapping out of the way than the catkins begin to lengthen and are soon ready to release their pollen. On a breezy day dusty beige drifts of pollen swirl around the hazel shrubs ensuring pollination of the flowers. This January flowering, however, marks a significant shift from early spring to plain deep winter.
There are so many signs of early spring it seems as if our trees and plants no longer have very much time to spend in dormancy. Whilst coppicing recently it was noticeable how some leaf buds were at bursting point and showing hints of the new green leaves inside. Hornbeam is particularly forward in this respect but elder is even earlier. Thus the growing season is greatly extended from early spring right through to very late autumn at which time both dogwood and the pretty pink dog rose can be seen flowering a second time around in one year.
While it makes for more agreeable working conditions it also provides considerable food for thought and makes one wonder what might be happening in another fifty years’ time.