Charles Kenyon: The volunteers recording the onset of spring

The Woodland Trust's project Nature's Calendar records events such as the year's first bluebells, frogspawn and cuckoos, says our columnist

"Ash before oak, we're in for a soak; oak before ash, we're in for a splash." This is a good maxim for the arrival of spring – which tree's leaves appear first, indicating how much wet weather will result. Climate change is forcing oak budburst before that of many trees and shrubs. Hawthorn is just one that is being overtaken. It's our main hedging plant and provides winter quarters and food for many insects and small mammals. Hawthorn is hardy, but struggles if it is overshadowed; and if it produces few buds, flowers and fruits, that affects species that depend on it – including the eggs and larvae that are a crucial food source for hedgerow birds gaining strength for nesting and breeding.

Many plants thrive with changes to climate, but they tend to do so selfishly. Phenology, the observation of natural changes related to climate, has been studied in England for at least 200 years. For the past 15, the Grantham-based charity the Woodland Trust, with the support of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Cambridge, has run a marvellous project called Nature's Calendar. About 50,000 volunteer recorders throughout the UK file events, especially in spring – such as first bluebells, frogspawn and cuckoos – and the effects of climate change are charted and forecast. It is the biggest evidence-collecting exercise in the country, and it is vital if the facts about the effects of climate change are to influence legislation. It's a good time to get started, wherever we live.

Charles Kenyon lives near Market Rasen, retiredcolonel@oldvicarage.net

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