Page last updated at 13:52 GMT, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Harsh winter delays spring blooms

By Sarah Mukherjee
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Hazel tree
March or January? Most of the trees are still bare

It is a lovely day in Archer's Wood, just south of Peterborough in Cambridgeshire.

The name, it is believed, comes from when the wood was chopped back at the side of Ermine Street, once a great Roman road, to ensure archers could not ambush travellers along the route.

The wood feels positively spring-like in the warm sunshine - the birds are singing.

But look around the wood, and it is more like January than March.

The trees are bare, and there are precious few signs of spring flowers.

Blackthorn buds
The trees will just bide their time until the soil warms up
Kate Lewthwaite, Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust says its researchers have uncovered "striking evidence" that common spring flowering plants are coming into bloom much later than would be expected.

Its says its volunteers are reporting far fewer sightings of blossoming woodland plants.

We have had weeks of hard, white frosts and, despite the warmer weather, the soil in many parts of the country is still rock solid.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that the plants that traditionally herald the beginning of spring are being rather tardy as well.

Researchers at the trust say the average UK flowering date of blackthorn is mid-March, and they would have expected around 1,000 sightings by now from their volunteers.

So far, they have only received a handful of reports.

"I was beginning to think there was a problem with our computer technology" says Kate Lewthwaite from the Trust. "But when you see so little evidence of spring on the ground, it makes sense."

We explore the wood and, eventually, we find a single set of buds on a bush. But, as Ms Lewthwaite points out, "at this time of year, woodlands like this should be full of the signs of Spring".

Snowdrop in bloom
The earliest spring blooms have just begun to make an appearance

So, will this have an effect on wildlife?

"The trees will just bide their time until the soil warms up," says Ms Lewthwaite, "and in fact it has meant that those of us who are tree-planting have had a little longer to get the trees in the ground.

"But it could have an effect on the insects that live on the flowers, and the birds that feed on those insects."

Experts say it is too early to tell what the effect this late spring will have on the natural world.

But it may be a while before the human population can enjoy wild spring flowers, and the colour and promise of spring that they bring.

One rare glimpse of some of the colours yet to come

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