Late spring: 10 consequences of the late spring

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine


The UK is on track for its coldest spring in more than 30 years and there are consequences - some rather unexpected.

It's cold, it's raining, it's sunny, it's snowing, it's cold, it's raining and so on. That just about sums up the UK's weather over the past few months.

Early figures from the Met Office show spring is on course to have been the coldest in the UK since 1979. The late spring has had knock-on effects - both expected and unexpected.

1. An apple bonanza. Apple lovers of the UK, rejoice: things are looking good for bumper crops this autumn. The cool weather means apple trees have remained dormant for longer and are now putting all that stored energy into producing thick blossom. And this is less likely to be damaged by frost because it has emerged later in the year.

"I have never seen apple blossom like it," says Chris Creed, horticulture adviser at environmental consultancy ADAS. "It's so full. If we get some warm weather between now and September it could mean a bumper crop in autumn."

Different varieties of apple tree are also blossoming together. This is important because many need to be pollinated from a different type of apple tree. It's now down to pollinators, mainly bees and hoverflies, to do their business. They have also emerged later this year so will have stored more energy.

2. Hay fever hell. If you are one of Britain's 16 million hay fever sufferers, then brace yourself - the highest pollen levels in half a century are predicted this year and the late spring is to blame.

Usually, different tree pollen is released in succession, starting with the alder in January. But the cool weather has meant a late start and the different pollen bursts are now expected to occur at the same time. Experts are also warning it will happen around the same time as grass pollen, from late May to July.

"Hay fever sufferers could be badly affected," warns the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit. Tissues and antihistamines at the ready.

3. Bumper slipper sales. The cold has not been good for shoe retailers, with shops finding it hard to shift shoes and sandals. But one type of footwear has seen an unseasonal rise in demand - slippers.

They have been the "standout performers" in footwear over the last few months, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). The late spring has definitely fuelled this demand, says a spokeswoman.

"Slippers are a cheaper alternative to turning the heating up given how much energy prices have gone up."

4. Fake tan slump. You'd think the lack of sunshine would have people fighting for a bottle of fake tan but market analysts say it's not the case. It's been too cold to bare any flesh so people haven't been getting themselves ready for the grand unveiling.

People buy fake tan when they think they should have a tan, basically when the sun is out, say retail analyst Kantar.

The value of sun preparation sales was down 53% in March compared with last year, according to its figures. Sales could pick up when the sun finally makes an appearance.

5. Very hungry birds. The late spring has resulted in "exceptional" circumstances for birds, says the RSPB. It all comes down to food, with the cold weather resulting in fewer insects to feed on.

The situation is particularly precarious for migratory birds. Having flown from Africa, they could have lost up to half their body weight and already be on the edge of survival.

"Winter is a hard time for birds anyway with high mortality rates," says an RSPB spokesman. "The lack of food this year means things are exceptionally bad. These last few months are going to have a long legacy when it comes to bird population. We desperately need a good summer to kick-start nature again."

The weather is also bad for birds that have open nests, like song thrushes and blackbirds. The cool temperatures mean their young could die of exposure.

6. Blooming marvellous flowers. Like so many other things in the natural world, the late spring has also delayed blooming in plants.

Flowers that normally bloom weeks apart will emerge together, producing an explosion, say experts.

"Spring is going to happen and it will be all the better for the wait when it comes to flowers," says Matthew Oates, a naturalist at the National Trust.

"There will be much more in flower at the same time, meaning so much colour and impact."

7. Badly damaged cars. Well, badly damaged suspension and tyres to be specific. The late spring and changeable weather have played havoc with the nation's potholes. The repeated freeze-thaw cycle of the cold spell and its length have made potholes even worse - and they were bad to start with.

Insurance claims for suspension and axle damage jumped by 12% in the first four months of the year and are expected to rise even higher, according to car warranty company Warranty Direct. The Local Government Association says it is asking the government for more money to deal with the situation.

"This has been a shocking year for potholes," says Warranty Direct boss Duncan McClure Fisher. "They don't just cause instant damage. Every hole you hit causes wear and tear to suspension components. We are expecting more claims in the coming months as people discover their suspension has simply worn out from the punishment."

8. A soup stampede. When it's cold, people reach for some liquid comfort in the form of soups. Sales in March soared compared with last year.

The value of fresh soup sales was up 36%, but packet soups rose by 50%, according to figures compiled by Kantar.

The rise in soup sales results from people choosing to stay at home rather than go out, say retail analysts.

As well as slipper sales rocketing, sales of nightwear and duvets are also up on the same period last year. You get the picture - the nation is nesting.

9. A sales rush on the home front. The lack of bikini buying due to the unseasonably cold weather is partly responsible for a rise in the sale of ironing boards and cutlery. It sounds random but the former does apparently have an impact on the latter.

When people don't spend money on fashion, they tend to spend it on their homes, says the BRC.

The colder weather has resulted in a slump in clothes sales in the first quarter of this year because people have delayed buying their spring and summer wardrobes. In the same period, sales of home accessories have done well. It is likely to be down to the weather, says the trade association.

10. Revealing the rookeries. Rooks gather in huge flocks to roost.

Their nests are usually high in trees and are home to an extended family, sometimes numbering more than 50. In 1971, a record 65,000 birds collected in an Aberdeenshire park.

With trees blossoming later this year, there have been much clearer views of these amazing rookeries.

"Looking at them up in a tree canopy has been great this year," says Oates.

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook.

Join BBC Nature on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature. You can also share your photos on our Summer of Wildlife flickr group - #seeitsnapitshareit.

Around the BBC

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.