The world of nature is in a state of chassis! What is going on? It's January, the coldest, darkest, longest month of winter when living things are lying low, dormant, hibernating, generally battening down the hatches and riding out the bad days. So why am I getting reports, accompanied by photos, of flowers that think it's spring and are bursting into bloom two months ahead of the expected time of flowering?
Spring advances across Europe at four miles an hour. Looked at from space, a green wave of trees bursting into leaf can be seen moving across the continent from southern Spain at the same speed as a person walks – four miles an hour. The recording of when plants and animals react to the warming and lengthening days is called phenology. An official definition might be: phenology is the science dealing with relationships between climate and periodic biological phenomena.
By keeping such records from year to year, scientists have been able to measure accurately the onset of spring. They tend to measure naturally-occurring wild plants and animals, not pampered garden flowers, so my records of daffodils cannot actually be included. Bud burst in trees has been recorded in Britain for many years and results are showing that Horse Chestnut trees are now opening their leaves 12 days earlier than they did in the 1980s. Oak trees are 10 days earlier and Ash, six days.
Last year in Ireland Forfás decided to carry out a study of when certain tree species opened their leaves as part of their Discover Science and Engineering programme. This study, called the Green Wave Project, invited primary schools to send in records of when the first Horse Chestnut buds and the first Hawthorn buds opened in their areas. The experiment was deemed so worthwhile that it is been carried out again and expanded, with last year's results acting as a baseline. Not only are Horse Chestnut and Hawthorn leaves being noted this year but the arrival of the first Swallow, the sight of the first Primrose, the opening of the Ash leaf and the first sight of Hawthorn blossoms are being recorded as well.
But does spring march across Ireland from south to north at four miles an hour? Or does it move inland from the coast, arriving last in such places as Birr and Athlone? This was not clear from last year's results, but as more records come in online this year, the situation may become clearer.
Forfás will accept data from any interested observers. Go to their website at www.greenwave.ie if you want to get involved. As daffodils are not included, spring is not expected to hit our shores until March, so you have plenty of time – in the short term anyway!