Northern Ireland

Has the mildest, wettest winter led to an early spring?

Frogspawn Image copyright Margaret Barton
Image caption Any early frogspawn could freeze if the temperatures drop for a time.

Spring may have sprung in gardens across Northern Ireland - but does that mean that winter's really gone?

Over the last few years, we've been enjoying milder winters and earlier springs.

This means that our plants bud and flower much earlier than they used to.

We have just had one of the mildest, wettest winters since records began with reports of daffodils, snowdrops and even cherry blossom in bloom as early as last December across the UK.

The average date for a snowdrop to bloom in the UK is 9 February.

Image copyright Margaret Barton
Image caption A coldsnap could affect plants later in the season.

The earliest recorded snowdrop in flower here in Northern Ireland was in Newtownards in County Down on January 10 in the winter of 2014.

However, Kaye Coates from the Woodland Trust says that this season, the first flowering snowdrop was in Kircubbin, County Down, on 28 December 2015.

While it's heartening to see colourful blooms break up the winter gloom, there's always the risk of a cold snap, which can affect plants later in the season.

Dr Kate Lewthwaite is the citizen science manager at the Woodland's Trust. She says "species that traditionally flower later in the spring, like hawthorn or wild cherry, are more vulnerable to the effects of frost, especially if this follows a mild spell that has encouraged early flowering.

"Frost-damaged flowers may fail to set fruit, which obviously has an impact on wildlife later in the season."

This happened during 2015 when a sharp spring frost almost wiped out County Armagh's famous apple crop at the centre of a £20m industry.

Image copyright Peter Holmes
Image caption Plants have been flowering earlier in the UK in recent years

Any early frogspawn could freeze if the temperatures drop for a time - clearly not good news for the frog population.

But fingers crossed, winter may be behind us.

Dr Lewthwaite says early sightings of the first signs of spring are becoming more commonplace, and could be expected as a result of climate change.

Has spring arrived?

The Trust is always adding to its records and is calling for the public to help them collect as much information as possible.

Director Patrick Cregg said: "We're keen to get a good geographical spread of observations and are appealing to local people to take part. Please remember that your records - no matter how few - will make a valuable contribution to scientific research."

Find out more at naturescalendar.org.uk