Spotlight | It’s winter again

30th November 2023
by Peter Morton

It’s a bit of a blessing having a maritime climate (especially this far inland), the chilly season is upon us, but compared to other countries on our latitude we can be more than just a few degrees warmer than some of our neighbours; with the added benefit of not being buried in ice and snow. Those dominant southwest winds sweeping warm wet air up from the equator keep the worst of it at bay. While we’re tucked up inside with cocoa and a good book longing for longer days, there is still plenty happening outside. No doubt that the world is quieter, our summer migrants have headed for sunnier spots, most of the bugs have gone to bed and for the better part our flora has gone to bud, rhizome, or seed to sleep off the winter.

And yet when I go out in the morning to work, I’m never alone. The enigmatic robins and melancholy mistle thrush sing all year long, I saw a woodcock fly overhead the other evening, winter gnats dance in shafts of light throughout the woodland and field voles scurry amongst the wood piles. Life carries on. last Christmas I had a brimstone butterfly frequenting my garden on boxing day.

But for the most of us we do yearn for spring, to see the blooms, to see the birds and see the buzz of insects revelling in the longer hours. What’s a naturalist to do?

Well, you’ll be pleased to know that there is still plenty. For any of you who like to record what is happening in your area, now is a great time to familiarise yourself with phenology. Phenology is the science of the seasons or “the study of periodic events within the biological life cycle”. I personally choose to use IRecord to log my data, but a calendar or diary is just as good. Most of you will know that a very much celebrated plant at withymead is the Loddon Lily.

Well, nestled away, quite close to the well is a cluster of bulbs. Without fail, every year, this cluster produces the first flower of spring. This year following the cold snap it arrived on the 9th of March. The year before it arrived on the 28th of February. This little phenological sign serves me well when layering up in the morning if nothing else. But in the grander scheme these things give me insight into what to expect. Many of our wildflowers, and wildlife for that matter, don’t want to hedge their bets when it comes to gearing up for spring. Many of which will only have one good shot at carrying out their life cycle in the coming year.

By tracking their cues and quietly observing the players arriving on stage we can truly understand the changing of the seasons. And if you decide to record and share the data you collect within your local area we can collectively track variances in climate. Whether it the arrival of the swallows, something I keep close to my heart; or the first lords and ladies flower (Arum maculatum) a favourite plant of mine.

If you can’t wait till spring, join me in keeping an eye out for winter bumblebees on winter flowering shrubs, migrant birds or better yet the few bold and brash wildflowers that will dare it all. I’ve put together a list, so even on the darkest days you can find some flowers to brighten your day.

  • Petty Spurge Euphorbia peplus
  • Herb Robert Geranium robertianum
  • Common Chickweed Stellaria media
  • Shepherd’s Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris
  • Red Dead-nettle Lamium purpurea
  • White Dead-nettle Lamium album
  • Groundsel Senecio vulgaris
  • Daisy Bellis perennis
  • Cow parsley Anthriscus sylvestris
  • Yarrow Achillea millefolium

21st December 2023
by Pete Morton