01 March 2016 by Phil Pickin
Phil Pickin asks whether winter ever really happened, looks at how climate change affects wildlife and reveals the telltale signs of spring…
The daylight hours are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer (not that it’s been overly cold this winter), so with these seasonal indictors in mind, it must be spring. For many this is a favourite time of year, due in no small way to our having endured the long dark days of winter filled with cold damp weather. As a result, we are all looking forward to getting out in the sunlight again, even if it will take more than a few rain-free days for the ground to dry out!
Climate change and the hedgehog
Wildlife, too, has noticed the changes and our progress into spring but this year some species, like the hedgehog, never really hibernated properly. This is a real problem for an animal that is already under threat. During the winter months, a hedgehog’s main food just isn’t about, regardless of how mild it is. As a result, underweight hogs have been turning up in gardens with many, thankfully, ending up in rescue centres. But it’s not just hedgehogs that have become confused by the weather. Plants, reptiles, birds and insects are all becoming active earlier and earlier.
Taking a look at bird behaviour
Keep an eye out for birds carrying nesting materials or, if they are very keen, beaks full of food for their early offspring. A number of normally migrating birds, such as swallows and blackcaps, have overwintered here so if you are very lucky you could spot one. Shrubs and hedgerows that contain hawthorn will be, or already have been, coming into bud with flowers to follow soon, and in a month or so bumblebees will be appearing again. As you might expect, snowdrops will be quickly followed up with daffodils, as these are the well-known indicators that the winter is now behind us.
Travelling toads and March-ing hares
In ponds, you might well find frogs and toads as well as masses of frogspawn. Toads can travel significant distances to find suitable ponds, which makes them vulnerable to predation and accidents, but keep a look out for them.
If you are really lucky you might well see mad March hares boxing and racing about in open fields as the season progresses. This is all part of their mating ritual but doesn’t make it any the less fascinating to watch. As the season progresses further, wild garlic and bluebells can be seen in woodland, and with the trees coming into full leaf the woodland will soon become greener but wildlife will become harder to spot.
Regardless of the reasons why the seasons are changing, winters are becoming less harsh but windier and wetter with flooding becoming more frequent. Wildlife is adapting to this change, sometimes for the better but sometimes for the worse. For those of us who enjoy the wildlife with whom we share this planet, we not only need to help halt these changes by becoming more environmentally aware, but we can also help the wildlife in our gardens and the areas we walk in and enjoy. Spotting what’s around, recording it, helping when we can and, in the case of our gardens, creating wildlife areas or ponds to encourage a diverse range of species to thrive. That way we will be able to enjoy the changing of the seasons both at home and in the countryside.
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