Changes in Nature’s Calendar – Early Bloomers
The Importance of Citizen Science in Monitoring and Adapting to Climatic Change
By Andrea Deri, Cataloguer and UKWA Climate Change Collection’s lead curator
On 1 January 2023, I had my usual walk from Folkestone Gardens via Sue Godfrey Nature Park, Deptford, London Borough of Lewisham to Greenwich Park, Royal Borough of Greenwich. Overcast, temperature in single digit, humid but calm. Trees and shrubs mostly leafless: an accentuating background to patches of bright green mosses.
I was hoping to see some flowers on winter blossoming plants, for example the bell-shaped flowers of clematis ‘Jingle Bell’ in St Alfege Church’s yard, and the spidery flowers of witch hazels in the Royal Observatory Garden in Greenwich. I was also curious what other flowers I would find, earlier than usual, triggered by the warming climate. Having joined a month ago (1 December 2022) the annual wildflower ‘hunt’ on the first day of the winter, a survey of species in flower in my locality, Deptford’s urban area since 2009 organised by the Creekside Education Trust and the London Natural History Society, I expected several early bloomers. Here is Creekside’s blog post of the 2021 wildflower survey.
While the witch hazels (Fig. 1.) did not disappoint, I was up for a surprise with clematis “Jingle Bell”: only the silky fluffy seedheads were left: it finished flowering earlier this year. I was lucky to see its last flowers on Christmas Eve 2022 (Fig. 2.). Other early flowers greeted me on a hazelnut shrub in Sue Godfrey Nature Park (Fig. 3.). But, I was truly astonished to see daffodils fully opened in a park by Creekside, just across the Creekside Discovery Centre (Fig.4.)
Figure 1 Witch hazel (Hamamelis sp.) in flower. Photo: Andrea Deri, Royal Observatory Garden, Greenwich, London, 1 January 2023
I started searching for phenology calendars, almanacs, and any information on the blooming time of these species in my local and other areas in order to compare my observations with the “expected” (based on previous years) flowering periods. The online findings supported my assumption: I did observe earlier than expected flowerings, with the most specific data for the hazelnut.
Clematis ‘Jingle Bell’
According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) clematis “Jingle Bell” flowers in winter and early spring. Compared to this broad-brush period, my observation this year suggests this individual specimen finished flowering much earlier than expected and earlier than I had observed this specimen in previous years.
Figure 2 Clematis cirrhosa “Jingle Bells” one bell-shaped flower and fluffy seedheads. Photo: Andrea Deri, St Elfege Church, Greenwich, London, 24 December 2022
A post on the Daffodil Society prompted me to do a search on RHS’s website for daffodils where February-March was quoted as the usual flowering period. More precise than for the clematis. Early flowering daffodil horticultural varieties, however, can bloom as early as January, stated one of the Gardeners World blogposts. I may have encountered an early flowering daffodil garden variety. In addition to its literary associations, this iconic flower may have just now become also a conversation starter about the climate crisis. Would its freshness and brightness frame a difficult dialogue in hope?
Figure 3 Daffodils (Narcissus sp.) in flower. Photo: Andrea Deri, near Creekside Discovery Centre, Deptford, London, 1 January 2023
The Woodland Trust Nature’s Calendar offered me with the tool I had been really looking for: a peer-reviewed database linked to a live map that allowed me to compare my observation with fellow observers in the UK at day level precision.
Figure 4 Hazelnut (Corylus avellana) in flower: crimson female flowers, yellow catkin male flowers. Photo: Andrea Deri, Sue Godfrey Nature Park, Deptford, London, 1 January 2023
Before I signed up to add my hazelnut observation, I took a screenshot of the “Add a Record” webpage on 5 January 2023 that showed the first hazelnut flower sighting on 4 January 2023. (Fig.5.)
Figure 5 Screenshot of Nature's Calendar, Woodland Trust. Photo: Andrea Deri, @20:34 pm GMT 5 January 2023
Hazelnut first flowering was among the recently recorded data of the Nature’s Calendar (Fig. 5.) My observation of hazelnut flowers on 1 January 2023 was not extraordinary but earlier than the one featured online. Hazelnut is expected to be in flower in early January according to Nature Calendar (downloadable pdf). But as early as 1 January? To answer this question, I had to register to enter my data. When I entered my observation date, I received an automatic note, all in red:
“This date falls outside of the expected range
The date you have entered is unusually early or late for this species and event; please double check the record. If it’s correct we’d like to know more about your observation, so please add a comment before clicking ‘next’ to continue. If possible, a photo is very useful too. Please note that your record will not appear on the live map until it has been checked by the Nature’s Calendar team.”
For evidence, I uploaded one of my photos of the hazelnut flowers (Fig.4.) and a description of the place and circumstances. My hazelnut flowering observations may turn out to be some of the earliest this year. To prove or refute this statement I rely on the Woodland Trust’s online database, the Nature’s Calendar team’s peer-review and keen monitoring of fellow citizen scientists. This type of on-land & online live collaboration in monitoring the slightest phenological changes is gaining increasing importance in addressing local impacts of climatic changes.
Will hazelnut flower earlier and earlier in the future? Only regular visitors can answer this question by careful monitoring the same hazelnut shrub and recording the date of the first flowers and uploading the data to Nature Calendar.
Nature Calendar invites citizen scientists to monitor a carefully selected list of species of shrubs, trees, flowers, grasses, fungi, birds, insects and amphibians throughout the year. Their changes over time will give us information on how these species (plants, animals and mushroom) adapt to the unfolding climatic changes. Phenological change data contributes to better decisions in wildlife conservation, among others.
While I was browsing, I came across several websites and webpages on various other decisions and local actions related to climate change adaptation. For example: What can I do about climate change in my garden? What local residents are doing in the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich about the climate crisis: Climate Action Lewisham, Climate Home – a home of creativity, imagination and community activism by young people, Lewisham Climate Action Bond as an example of Local Climate Bonds, Lewisham Climate Emergency Declaration and Action Plan, CAPE Informing Local Action on Climate Change / London Borough of Lewisham, The Climate Emergency website of Royal Borough of Greenwich, Carbon Neutral Greenwich, Greenwich Climate Network.
Some of the activities and organisations were familiar to me, I was taken aback by others: ‘How could I miss them? I live here!” A fast-changing landscape of actions and online information. Having saved these sites to my further actions, I also realised some of these online contents could be highly ephemeral. Uploading my list of URLs to the UKWA Climate Change collection saved local digital content for future research on climatic changes.
Sauntering through streets, gardens and parks has turned into an archival journey, connecting past, present and future. Fit for the first day of the year. Fit for any days, anywhere where your interest, experience, and local knowledge crosses climatic changes.
The Natural History Museum’s community science webpage lists a broad range of UK wildlife monitoring activities related to climatic changes, including the New Year Plant Hunt of the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and the upcoming annual Big Garden Birdwatch (27-28 January 2023) organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds since 1979.
Contribute to the web archive
Your next walk or online stroll may spark you to nominate some of your local climate initiatives (civil society, governmental, business, media, arts and academia) to the UK Web Archive Climate Change Collection. Many thanks for your consideration.