“The nine-men’s-morris is filled up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here.
No night is now with hymn or carol blessed.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.”
These words, spoken by Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream, talk about confused seasons; of ice covering rose petals and of humans, unhappy with the poor luck in summer. This is just one example of when Shakespeare references climate change; the bard made multiple references to unseasonal goings-on throughout his work, although what he and others at the time would have understood of it is not really well-documented, as our current understanding on the human impacts were not really understood until the last century.
Today, the erratic seasons seem to be more glaringly obvious, and this December is a perfect case study of our confused climate. The expected cold snap arrived late, only for the temperature to heat up again, before another sudden decent into zero temperatures occurred without warning. Snow flurries were unprepared for and as the UK became embroiled in the annual argument of how poorly we cope with the white stuff, our wildlife must also struggled, with many not ready for the colder climate. In the days before the temperatures dropped, there had been a lot of activity here in Cornwall. Bumble bees set about searching for pollen and they would have been in luck, as many plants came into bloom again. Fields of daffodils erupted, lighting the grey skies with their butter-cream bonnets, and even sea pinks coloured once more along the coastlines. Of course, snow never hit the county, except for on the Cornish ‘highlands’ of Bodmin, but we did see temperatures drop to zero in pockets across the county, each of the microclimates creating its own meteorological display.
One aspect of winter which has been bothering me is the distinct lack of nuthatches. Last year, I counted many nuthatches in the area, their plump bodies scaling tree trunks, hunting for insects in the bark with their long, pointed beaks. They are fantastic birds, adorned in stunning colours and with a real feisty attitude; bold and territorial. I love to watch them, and whilst they have confidence, they often circle round the tree trunk opposite to where you are; meaning photographing them can be tricky! But despite many sightings last winter, this December, they all seem to have disappeared and I haven’t yet counted one. This concerns me as research has been recently published which proves that birds are being greatly affected by climate change. On the surface, warmer winters may sound preferable to many birds, and in truth, it is. Many species will thrive thanks to few deaths from freezing temperatures and an abundance of food; however the issue is that as those species which prefer colder climates are forced elsewhere, their ranges greatly reduced, and as a result the biodiversity is ultimately decreased which will have a serious knock on effect to our environment overall. The report, The State of UK Birds, was released earlier in December, and many aspects of it are shocking; changes to bird populations are startling, as rising sea levels and increasingly warmer temperatures affect habitats and breeding of many of our species. Of course, the curlew is once again highlighted as being a bird in serious danger, and I will address this in a later post by itself, but in Cornwall the birds are now only thought to be breeding high up in Bodmin and little is known about population numbers. I interviewed Dr Daniel Hayhow, a Scientist who has been leading the research, for New Nature magazine, and despite his positivity about the future, I came away feeling slightly distressed. Dan Jarvis, Welfare Development and Field Support Officer with British Divers Marine Life Rescue, just this month showed me some research he had done regarding call-outs to marine mammal rescues. They have been tracking the amount of call-outs over the last few years, and whilst this is always a busy time due to grey seal pupping season in Cornwall, in the last couple of years the dramatic increase has been alarming, with over 80 call-outs in October alone– and Dan believes it is all due to the recent storms we have been having. Seal pups are struggling in the rough seas and are ending up wounded, malnourished and separated from their mothers. The recent increase of storms is thought to be directly linked to our ever-changing climate and many predict it will only get worse; especially if El Nino arrives as predicted.
We are only at the beginning of winter of course, and with 2 more months left to go, it may be that those cold temperatures will arrive during January and February, so we have time yet to see what changes will occur. Time will also tell what effect the late blooming flowers will have during the warmer months, when those species will need their energy to bloom once more. I will still be out daily searching for those beautiful nuthatches, whom I hope, we haven’t seen the last of yet.