Dear Readers, you may remember that last year I ‘attended’ a talk by Alastair Fitter, on Plants and Climate Change. Fitter pointed out that plants were flowering earlier than they had in past years, and he had very good evidence from the studies done by his father Richard Fitter and himself over many years. Now, New Scientist is reporting on a new study by the University of Cambridge, which is showing that the flowering of spring plants has moved forward by a whole month since 1986. This is based on over 420,000 observations of the first flowering of 406 plant species in a citizen science project called ‘Nature’s Calendar’ which is hosted by the Woodland Trust.Ulf Büntgen who headed up the study explains that there are records dating back to 1753, from gardeners and naturalists as well as organisations such as the Royal Meteorological Society. The date of 1986 was chosen because there were as many records before this date as there were afterwards, so it was the midpoint of the data.
The study shows that flowers were opening an average of 26 days earlier than in 1986 (in Fitter’s talk there were wide variations between the different species). The effect seems to have been most marked on small plants, with those less than 20 centimetres high flowering on average 32 days earlier than in 1986.
The average temperature of the months between January and April had a direct correlation with the date of flowering – clearly spring-flowering plants are extremely temperature-sensitive. The scary thing is that the although the maximum average temperature across those four months has only risen by 1 degree Celsius, it’s resulted in a change of a month in flowering time. And this has a knock-on effect on all the insects that pollinate and feed on the plants, and in turn on the birds and other animals that feed on them.
The time is out of joint, as Shakespeare said.