Earliest Spring?

Daffodils out 4 weeks early
by Philip Eden

The whirr of lawnmowers could be heard in my part of Bedfordshire on Friday afternoon - an incongruous sound for the first half of February. Although it had rained on 27 of the previous 31 days, the quantity of water that had fallen over much of eastern England had not been great. The ground may have appeared sodden, but one day of strong drying winds and three days of bright sunshine, almost unbroken, had removed the 'squelch' factor. More to the point, the grass had been growing since the middle of January and lawns hereabouts are beginning to look quite shaggy. I cannot remember having to perform my first cut before the beginning of April in any other year, though that may reflect on my laziness more than the degree of advancement of the spring.

This year, though, there is no doubt about how advanced the season is. Not only is the grass growing, the daffodils are out in many southern, midland and eastern counties of England and in south Wales too, the forsythia will soon follow, and the magnolia buds are swelling. Friday morning's frost was the first in some parts of the country since January 3.

The crucial thermometer reading is 6°C, for most plants are effectively dormant below this threshold. The higher the temperature is above it, the faster growth is. When you consider that the mean January and February temperatures over the vast bulk of the UK are below 6°C it is easy to understand why lawnmowers are so rarely required in February. Only in the Isles of Scilly is it significantly warmer - 7.7°C on average in January and 7.3°C in February - and this is why florists get their early daffodils from there. Even in March the mean monthly temperature exceeds 6°C only in southern and western parts of Britain , and spring growth does not normally get under way in upland parts of northern England and Scotland until May.

The exceptional warmth this year lasted from January 13 to February 12, and during that period mean temperature exceeded the long-term average by 4-6 deg;C over most of England and Wales, and was widely above the average for April. This is unprecedented for any 31-day period in mid-winter in 342 years of records. The mean temperature in the Isles of Scilly was 11.8°C, and 10°C was exceeded here on 34 consecutive days. That important 6°C threshold was exceeded as far north as Stornoway, Fort William and Dundee.