As the unseasonably mild winter has caused hibernation to be disrupted in the UK, spring flowers are now in full bloom. This puts at risk butterflies, hedgehogs and bats.
Climate change is disrupting the seasons. This winter has been particularly mild. Trees have not dropped their autumn leaves while others have begun to flower months earlier. This New Years Eve will be the mildest since records began. Temperatures are expected to reach 15C in certain parts of the country, which is double the average for this time of the year.
This could have dire consequences for creatures that rely on the seasons to survive.
Experts believe that the unseasonal warmth is caused by a low-pressure system, but that the background temperature rises resulting from climate change are worsening the problem.
Grahame Madge, a Met Office climate spokesperson, stated that the unseasonal warmth of the new year period was caused by a low pressure system drawing warm air from the Atlantic. This would have created much warmer conditions than average, with about 1C of background heating, but it is possible that climate changes will make the event more extreme than previously thought.
He warned that this could cause butterflies to die if they emerge too early from hibernation before adequate food is available.
Madge stated that hibernation can be encouraged by abnormally warm winters. Red admirals and small tortoiseshells are two examples of insects that can be challenged. They can also emerge without accessing vital food sources such as nectar. The hibernating individuals may find themselves in dire situations if the warm spell is followed by colder conditions.
The unusually warm weather has made hibernating mammals confused, as they have been waking up early due to the confusion. This could prove fatal for animals such as hedgehogs who are not receiving enough food until spring.
Kathryn Brown, The Wildlife Trusts’ director for climate action, stated that the climate is changing and is having an impact both on individual species and whole ecosystems. The warming climate is affecting breeding, food availability, and behavior, including hibernation. Some species may temporarily emerge from hibernation in winter due to unusually mild temperatures. This can be problematic if there is not enough food to compensate for the extra energy. Hedgehogs are at higher risk. More research is needed to determine the impact on other hibernating species like bats and dormice.
Roses are in bloom throughout winter, just like in Mediterranean climates, according to horticulturalists. Bright spring flowers are already in bloom in British gardens.
Matthew Pottage is the curator of Royal Horticultural Society’s Wisley garden. He said: There are pros and cons to the current mild climate for plants and gardens. Roses and other out-of-season plants will continue to flower. Spring plants such as magnolia will likely start to bloom earlier than usual, which will add a welcome touch of colour to gardens starting in the next year, if the milder weather continues.
The frosts that kill insects have been missed by farmers and gardeners. Some fungi, insects and plants now thrive all year.
Pottage stated that the absence of a cold snap will allow exotic plant varieties to flourish, but the downside is that gardeners will continue experiencing pests until significant frosts arrive.
Experts from the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland are asking gardeners for records of unusually early blooms in gardens. As the seasons become more complicated, this has become a popular trend.
Louise Marsh, a representative of the BSBI, stated: We have seen reports from social media that plants are in bloom at the moment. These reports have raised a few eyebrows. However, I expect we’ll see a similar pattern than previous years with hundreds of species in flower.
It’s not always a straightforward story of all species coming into bloom in the early spring. Most species in bloom are usually autumn stragglers, which have survived hard frosts. A quarter of all blooms are all-year rounders (typical urban weeds like groundsel, shepherds purse and dandelion) and a few winter specialist such as winter heliotrope. Around a quarter are spring flowers, such primrose and lesser celandine that bloom early.
There are concerns about the impact on pollinators if flowers bloom before they have had a chance to drink the nectar.