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Mark Kinver | 11:48 UK time, Tuesday, 22 February 2011

This edition of Green Room asks whether spring has truly sprung, and how do we know anyway? It also looks at a scientific project to improve weather and climate models that will ask citizen scientists to stare at the sky or blow bubbles in the wind.

Snowdrops at Newark House (Image: PA)

The late arrival of snowdrops upset some, but experts say it will have been worth the wait

So as the world stirs from its winter slumber, the more phenologically minded among us have had their eyes and ears open for the first shoots, bud bursts, or song thrush warbles of the new year.

After the coldest December for a century, it may just be that people were keen to herald the arrival of lighter evenings and warmer temperatures, but there was a collective grumbling in the media when it was decided that spring was a little behind schedule.

The Daily Mail said spring was late for the second successive year, and events that signal a shift in seasons - such as hazel, willow or snowdrops flowering - were delayed by two weeks.

But the paper did add that the delay in flowering meant that it would trigger fantastic displays of snowdrops in bloom, as the early varieties flowered alongside the late risers.

The Daily Telegraph agreed that people had a to wait a little longer to see the first shoots emerge from the soil, but once it gathered pace then it would come "thundering through".

The Guardian quotes Dr Tim Sparks, one of the leading voices on phenology, who suggested the adverse weather in December probably put a temporary brake on early flowering species.

"It was that cold month which has delayed flowering of things like celandines and snowdrops," he said.

"Things will come on in much of a rush because they've been held back.

"By the time we get to hawthorn and bluebells, later spring events, they're going to be the usual time or could even be earlier."

For those who would like to get a better understanding of the science and history of phenology, the Nature's Calendar website offers a good grounding.


It is not just plants that signal a change in the weather, feathered and furry creatures are also getting in the mood.

A quick search on the web reveals a wealth of web-cams that offer a peep inside nest boxes, out-of-sight ledges or underground dens.

For example, the Wildlife Whisperer website (which lists broadcaster and cameraman Simon King as one of its co-founders) has a number of webcams to capture footage of visitors to its rural HQ.

Another wildlife film-maker, Andrew Cooper, has set up a series of cameras that offer a unique glimpse of life in a badger sett.

And Nottingham Trent University allows web users to get up close and personal with peregrine falcons that have set up home on one of the more exposed ledges at the university.

Blowing in the wind

And you do not have to be in the great outdoors in order to hear short tweets of spring. There is a growing band of TV and academic naturalists sharing their views and musings via social media.

The National Trust's Matthew Oates, one of the UK's leading authorities on butterflies, has dipped his toes into the world of Twitter.

While the attention of many is focused on the arrival of spring, Mr Oates used one of his first tweets to dampen any talk of BBQ summers.

He wrote: "Worried - a peacock as my 1st butt of the year usually heralds a wet summer."

Finally, a project that is set to begin in March is looking to recruit the help of citizen scientists.

The Met Office and Royal Meteorological Society will be asking people to either look to the skies or blow bubbles in the wind - all in the name of improving the performance of weather and climate models.

Those of you who would like an information pack (and live in England) can submit your details on the Opal climate survey website. Everyone else will be able to download the information once the survey gets underway.

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