Nature’s slowly waking up

Blackthorn in bloom heralds a cold snap
Blackthorn in bloom heralds a cold snap

Written by Heather Elvidge

After those arctic easterlies laced with snow flurries, Easter turned out better than we’d dared to hope.

The sun has some warmth in it now, and there’s a feeling of pent-up energy among birds, animals and plants. They’re keen to be getting on with the business of spring.

The cheery flowers of lesser celandines are opening at last. Their glossy yellow stars are among the first to appear in woods and on roadside verges, but they’ve been waiting for the sun. Celandines turn their flowers toward it, tracking its path throughout the day.

The great inrush of migrant birds has yet to begin, although a few sand martins, chiffchaffs and wheatears have arrived in the south.

Puffins are coming back to their breeding site at Bempton cliffs. But these tough little birds have had to endure terrible conditions. Because they were at sea when those strong easterlies were whipping the waves into a heaving frenzy, many puffins have perished. The RSPB says that those that made it back to the Bempton reserve are hungry and exhausted.

Although the freezing wind was hardly bearable, at least we missed the snow. Heavy falls hit the west of the country where farmers had to dig their sheep out of deep drifts. Ewes with their thick fleeces are better equipped to survive, but there were many fatalities among the spring lambs.

Arable farmers too have been struggling with the weather. Some fields were left fallow over winter because of the wet, while those crops that were sown are in desperate need of some warmth.

But some, such as rhubarb, blackcurrants and apples, have benefited from the freeze. Last year’s warm March brought fruit trees into bloom early, only for the blossom to be nipped by late frosts. Insects that were tempted out suffered, along with frogspawn and early chicks. In recent years spring has been arriving earlier and earlier and that’s not necessarily a good thing; what we’re seeing now is more like the kind of springs we used to have.

Weather watch

Traditionally, April is the month of teasing sun and gentle rain: “April showers bring forth May flowers.” In reality its weather is a mixture of everything, often all on the same day.

That easterly wind is set in for the month, though hopefully it’ll be no more than a breeze. A Met Office three-month forecast says that April temperatures will continue to be a bit lower than average, with warmer than average spells possible in May. Note that “warmer than average” does not signal a heatwave, as some rumours have suggested.

Keep an eye on the blackthorn, the dark, tangly bush that bears black sloes. When masses of white flowers open its bare branches, there’s a cold snap known as the Blackthorn Winter. This usually coincides with one of the cold periods identified by Alexander Buchan, a Victorian meteorologist, so keep those thermals handy for April 11 to 14.

Folklore says that rain on Good Friday and Easter Monday— it has to be both days — means “a good year for grass and a bad year for hay.” In other words a wet summer, but happily this was not fulfilled. Could this be a hopeful sign? Here’s an old saying to cheer us up: “East wind in spring, a good summer shall bring.”