BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 16:09 GMT, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Why is it going to be a stunning spring?

Daffodil buds and scant blooms

The Magazine answers...

It's been the longest and coldest winter in years, but the pay-off will be a spectacular spring, conservationists say. Why?

It's been a long time coming. But spring is about to be sprung. Finally.

Winter has held the UK in its icy grip for quite long enough. Daffodils, traditionally given at Mother's Day, have been in short supply, their blooms delayed by the coldest winter in 30 years.

And bats, bees and butterflies are only now starting to venture out, with no unseasonal sightings of bumblebees or frog spawn in January this year.

Later spring means flora and fauna emerge over longer period
This helps minimise risk of weather damage
Animals and insects have had proper hibernation, uninterrupted by mild winter days

Instead, the birds and bees, flowers and trees have taken their time to shake off winter. "We've grown used to early, fast springs - the last 'late' one was in 1976," says Matthew Oates, the National Trust's conservation advisor, who has kept detailed wildlife diaries for many years.

The advantage of a late spring is everything appears more slowly, and comes in successive waves so it lasts longer, he says. It gives us back a season that has been shoehorned into a shorter and shorter time scale in recent years.

"We've effectively gone from late winter straight into early summer in recent years. One of the problems with early, rushed springs is the flowers and butterflies then get clobbered by foul and abusive [spring] weather. A cold winter slows everything down. And a late spring is more safe and secure.

Bee on apple blossom
A late spring means birds, bees and blossom are around for longer

"It gives us an opportunity to appreciate spring, rather than having to try to catch a glimpse of it in one weekend."

But it can prove problematic for those who try to timetable events around seasonal displays. At last weekend's Thriplow Daffodil Festival in Hertfordshire - which typically attracts 10,000 visitors over two days - the blooms began to appear at the last possible minute. Ditto in Cumbria - the setting for Wordsworth's famous ode to daffodils - and Wales. All rely on spectacular drifts of golden trumpets to herald spring to tourists. These will come, and soon, but later than we've become used to.

"It's already been an amazing season for snowdrops, with six or seven weeks of flowering, which gives us an opportunity to appreciate them," says Mr Oates. He expects the same pattern, of a later but longer than usual flowering period, for daffodils, primroses, anemones, fruit blossoms and bluebells.

Winter's sleep

And expect a bumper year for the animals and insects that benefit from a long hibernation, like bats, bees and butterflies such as red admirals and small tortoiseshells.

"A cold winter is good as they don't get woken up and expend energy on a mild winter's day flitting about, only to find there's not much food and have to go back and hide again," says Mr Oates.

The butterflies that hatch anew in spring are also slower off the mark than in recent years. Caterpillars have taken longer to fatten up as young, nutritionally rich plant growth has been in short supply.

Question mark floor plan of BBC Television Centre
A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

Also due imminently are migratory birds such as swallows and swifts, which have been making their way to these shores from warmer climes.

There is a little ray of sunshine. The Easter holidays start in a little over a week, and the natural world will be a-buzz.

"The daffodils will be at their peak and there will be the first flush of green on the trees. We've all been entombed through the snowy winter, and need a decent Easter this year - regardless of which species we are."

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