Friday, 12 April 2013

Signs of spring

Hooray, those sharp east winds have disappeared for the time being. This year's prolonged winter has many implications for wildlife, farming and food production. First, the wildlife. Spring migrants are late to arrive but I heard the first chiffchaff on Wednesday. Their arrival is about two weeks later than normal. The wild daffodils, usually at their peak around 8 March, were still at their best last weekend - one month later than normal. The cold weather has kept them in splendid 'suspended' animation. Barn owls will probably be suffering. At this time of year the females need to be nice and fat, ready to lay eggs, but insects and voles are probably scarcer, so the barn owls will either delay breeding, lay fewer eggs or perhaps be less fertile.

Farmland wildlife may also benefit from the huge acreage of uncultivated land that was too wet to plant last autumn and now, it is is too late to plant for this year. Many fields will need to remain fallow or planted up with a green manure, so will not be producing wheat, barley or oilseed rape this year. A lot of the oilseed rape has also failed - either eaten by slugs or pigeons. Meanwhile, take a minute to think about the challenges faced by upland farmers who have had to dig their sheep out of 7-foot snowdrifts.

For those of us with veg patches or allotments it has been too cold to get seeds going, so our growing season may be shorter - unless we have a nice mild autumn. Time will tell but I plan to get digging this weekend, (followed by a visit to the local  back man on Monday!).

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