It’s easy to assume that nature’s yearly cycle is as regular as clockwork. Migrating birds fly in or out, trees and plants begin to shed their leaves or burst into bloom and hibernating animals appear or disappear with reliable regularity at the same time every year – or do they?
So much of nature’s calendar is inextricably linked to the weather but, as we know, the global climate is ever-changing so it is essential to keep a close eye on annual events in order to ascertain how plants and wildlife may be affected. The science of tracking these seasonal episodes is called phenology and here in the Heart of England Forest it gives us a fascinating overview of our flora and fauna. We are always on the lookout for the first signs of seasonal change – and we’d love it if you could help us!
Why is phenology important?
Scientists know that the lives of plants and animals revolve around their local climate. Long term weather patterns are impacted by non-biological factors, namely temperature, rainfall and sunlight. Species use the predictable yearly changes in season to determine when they start natural events, such as breeding or flowering.
Phenology is, quite simply, the widespread collection of data about natural events. By maintaining a continuous set of records of these occurrences, it allows us to build a bigger, long-term picture of the effects of climate change and the health of species and ecosystems within the forest.
Keeping an eye on nature’s health
Keeping records of these annual natural occurrences is an important way of gauging some of the subtle changes that may be going on as weather patterns fluctuate.
Every species has an impact on its food chain and community and if one is out of sync, the effects can trickle down the line. For example, given the recent unseasonably warm winter, frogs might mistake that warmth for the onset of spring and start to breed much earlier than usual. They may emerge from hibernation ahead of time and then perhaps fall victim to a late winter frost, resulting in a drop in numbers that will impact on their predators, such as birds of prey or snakes.
Climate change can affect the human food chain, too. If crops flower too early, some of the insects that pollinate them may still be larvae and unable to carry out that task, preventing fruit and vegetable growth!
How you can help – join our ‘Woodland Watch 2017’
You’ll be pleased to know that no scientific experience is needed to help us out! In fact, it couldn’t be easier – just download a copy of our Woodland Watch checklist, print it out and bring it with you when you visit the Heart of England Forest. Keep your eyes peeled and let us know when you spot something you feel may be of significance.
This might include:
- Spotting your first flower of spring
- Perhaps noting the first butterfly of the season flitting through the woodland
- Hearing your first cuckoo call or
- Encountering your first bird’s nest of the year.
Please send us your photos and let us know what you saw and when and where you saw it. Email your information to us at firstname.lastname@example.org . Before you know it, you’ll be a phenologist too!