Nature is a great lifter of spirits, and never more so than at this time of year when we’re all straining to spot the signs that the worst of winter chills, endless rain and battering storms are behind us.

The Meteorological start of spring is March 1st, while the astronomical calendar dates it as March 20th. Of course, neither are related directly to the conditions at the time, so we start seeing signs of spring significantly earlier than that, depending on local conditions.

As we write, snowdrops are everywhere, primroses are adding a splash of colour in places, and even the dawn chorus is strengthening its collective voice. In Dorset, Bere Marsh Farm manager, Elaine Spencer White, is seeing nature in fast-forward mode. “Spring signs are all around and the big issue is that they are so early, a good four weeks ahead of the traditional timing of around mid-March,” said Elaine.

“Bluebells are only just underground because soil temps are very warm, so bulbs are pushing through, whereas they would normally be at this point in April and flower in May,” she added. 

At Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire, farmer Tim Scott has noticed the grey partridge (below) have paired up and are staking their territories around the farm. However, his spring focus is more on issues around soil moisture following a wet autumn in 2023 and the series of storms that brought exceptionally heavy rain over winter.

“Many fields are still soaked which will make planting my spring-sown crops, barley and wheat, much more difficult,” revealed Tim. “Part of this is down to the way I manage the fields regeneratively because just a few years into the process on heavier soils, drainage can suffer as it’s more compacted.”

Tim is hoping for the next few months to bring good drying weather to Cambridgeshire, allowing him to get his spring seeds into the ground by March at the latest.

Conservation officer, Vince Lea, also based near Lark Rise Farm in Cambridgeshire, has noted the emergence of spring as he goes about his work. “Today I heard chaffinches singing and noted quite a few germinating seeds in the garden,” he said.

“Spring timing is different for every species and is reflected by the start of plant growth and reproduction, insect emergence and activities, spawning in fish and amphibians, the end of hibernation for reptiles, bird song, moulting into breeding plumage, migration and nesting, while many mammals start breeding.”

While we may crave the warmer temperatures and the rapid activity of the natural world that spring brings, there is a danger in experiencing better conditions too early, as a sudden cold snap or even snowfall can bring a rapid halt to activity.

“Nature can gamble when we get warmer weather early and start breeding, but of course if the weather changes, then that gamble might not pay off,” Vince said.

With weather patterns more difficult to predict these days, both nature and farmers will need to adapt to localised conditions. Those species (and farmers) that find it harder to adapt, will potentially lose out. However, for those who are looking for the little signs that better (warmer) days are coming, the sight of a great tit checking out a nest box, or crocuses and daffodils pushing up out of the ground will undoubtedly raise a smile this month.

Published: 12th February 2024

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