The United Kingdom has some of the most detailed records of seasonal changes anywhere in the world. Since the 18th century, observations of seasonal changes have been recorded by scientists, naturalists, amateur and professional gardeners, and organizations such as the Royal Meteorological Society. Researchers at two British institutions have collected and collated these records into a database they call Nature’s Calendar, which currently has about 3.5 million records going back to 1736.
By analyzing more than 400,000 observations of 406 plant species in Nature’s Calendar, they found that the average first flowering date from 1987 to 2019 is a full month earlier than the average from 1753 to 1986. The change correlates very well with rising global temperatures.
The ecological risks associated with earlier flowering times are high. When plants flower too early, a late frost can kill them – a phenomenon most gardeners have experienced at some point or another. Beyond that, plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife have co-evolved to be synchronized with plants in their development stages. A certain plant flowers and attracts a certain kind of insect, which then attracts a particular kind of bird, and so on. If plants get out of sync with the animals in the ecosystem and the animals can’t change their behavior quickly enough, it can lead to species collapse.
If global temperatures continue to increase at their current rate, spring in the UK could eventually start in February, creating serious problems for many of the species that inhabit forests, gardens, and farms. The dangers of climate change are not just about extreme weather.
UK plants flowering a month earlier due to climate change
Photo, posted February 1, 2012, courtesy of Mandy via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio.