What effect has the mild winter had?

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Our specialist on nature and wildlife, Matthew Oates, takes a look at the recent weather we've been experiencing and asks 'where's winter?'

The weather this winter has, so far, been unduly mild. In the south we’ve only had five light-to-moderate frosts, though it looks like colder weather may be on the horizon.

Although it’s a distant memory now, there was a dry spell from mid-November to early December. Then Mother Nature turned the tap on and left it running so, for the second consecutive year, there was widespread flooding at Christmas. New Year was unseasonably wet, and many people and places have suffered greatly.

Were it not for the rains, which have slowed nature down, spring would now be knocking on our doors. As it is, dunnocks, robins, song thrushes and wood pigeons are all singing away, and great tits are honking, while hazel catkins have been in flower along the lanes since before Christmas. Rooks have been seen carrying twigs – a month early. As soon as the ground starts to dry out, crocuses and snowdrops will spring into bloom, they could be very early this year.

The truth is that winter has yet to show up. You might think this is a good thing, but we need winter, not just for tobogganing and snowballing but because early springs almost invariably end in tears. Also, spring is all the better for the wait. Like other glories, spring benefits from being dreamed: ‘It is not spring yet. Spring is being dreamed…’ muses the poet and naturalist Edward Thomas in The South Country (1909).

What can we expect from January to March?

Some people dislike winter, and January in particular. In fact, many struggle badly with it, often unknowingly. We're perhaps too much under the thumb of the darker seasons, not to mention inclement weather. But the signs of spring begin in January, with the first snowdrops, crocuses, daisies, catkins, bird song and the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch weekend at the end of the month.

February is much-maligned as a month, yet it offers the first bumble bees, primroses, pussy willow and catkins. Mid-month, the rooks begin and, by the month’s end, blackbirds start to sing properly. Best of all, the mornings and evenings begin to get noticeably brighter.

March is take-off month, although it wasn’t last year, offering celandines, daffodils, violets, blackthorn and prunus blossom and the greening of the hedges. In the animal kingdom, the first butterflies, frogspawn can be seen, and summer birds begin to reappear in the skies. Best of all, British Summer Time returns, leaving winter a distant, chilly memory.