Why spring is on its way to Dorset earlier this year

The exotically marked early purple orchid leaves in the woods at Kingcombe

The exotically marked early purple orchid leaves in the woods at Kingcombe - Credit: Archant

It has been a long, wet and stormy winter but also surprisingly mild, already there are plenty of signs in the Dorset countryside that spring is coming early this year

Drifts of snowdrops at Kingcombe

Drifts of snowdrops at Kingcombe - Credit: Archant

Drifts of tiny white snowdrops, banks of pale yellow primroses, new shoots of daffodils and a general perception of greening are encouraging signs that, despite the disastrous and persistent wet weather, Dorset’s flora and fauna are heralding an early spring. Victoria Vincent, Education & Engagement Officer at Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Kingcombe Meadows nature reserve, has already seen the signs: “We’re seeing things a month earlier than last year; here at Kingcombe early purple orchid leaves have already appeared and also hazel flowers.”

The warmer weather is also bringing out gnats and flies sooner than usual, which in turn may entice bats out of their winter hibernation somewhat earlier than might be expected.

As the days lengthen, making for lighter mornings and evenings, bird life becomes much more active and urgent. Many garden birds, such as chaffinch, tits, wrens and sparrows, are pairing and preparing nests for their new families.

Some of the first of the returning migrants such as hirundines – the swallows and martins – are frequently being seen earlier each year. The sand martin is generally the first of these species to arrive in Dorset but an occasional swallow is often spotted as early as March. As the warmer weather comes, most overwintering migrants in the UK such as redwings and field fares, return to breed in more northerly climes.

Frogspawn was reported in Cornwall as early as January this year, but when cold periods intervene these very early batches are unlikely to be viable. But by now, with greater activity by frogs that have kept a low profile at the bottom of ponds or in cavities over the winter months, more spawn is apparent in ponds. Even newts have been seen.

Hedgehogs which hunkered down in undergrowth are gradually beginning to emerge from their winter quarters to forage for food. Sadly, the population of these appealing creatures, often referred to as the gardeners’ friend as they have a liking for slugs, is in decline due to predation and loss of habitat. Consequently, they need as much help from us as possible.

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Nigel Brooks, Warden at Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath nature reserve, has also seen signs of an early spring on his patch. “There have been many signs of spring including a variety of butterflies; we recorded a brimstone butterfly on this reserve as early as 9 January and you can expect to see small tortoiseshells, red admirals and other species about.”

At the end of this month, without question, spring really will be with us, as British Summer Time begins on Sunday 30 March. Then the clocks go forward, and longer days are back again.

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