The winter of 2013-14 will be best remembered for how wet and windy it’s been. Amid all the reports of flooding and storm damage, it’s easy to overlook that temperatures have been extremely mild, at least in south-east England. We have seen frost in London on no more than three or four mornings in the entire winter. So perhaps it’s not surprising that spring has been extremely early this year, with some flowers out up to 2 months earlier than normal. This is in stark contrast to 2013, when freezing weather well into April delayed flowering of many spring plants.
By the third week in January, Sweet Violets were flowering at Bethnal Green Nature Reserve, along with the more expected Winter Aconites and Snowdrops. Cow Parsley, which normally flowers in April, was out at East India Dock Basin on 27 January, and there were good displays of crocuses and daffodils at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park before the end of the month. Primroses, usually expected to flower in March, were in full bloom at Parnham Street Wildlife Garden at the beginning of February.
There are still some fine displays of spring flowers to be seen in March, including a spectacular display of crocuses and daffodils on the Manchester Estate, where more than 10,000 bulbs were planted in 2012 by corporate volunteers. Other good places to see spring bulbs include Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and Poplar Recreation Ground (where the header photograph was taken).
It’s not just the plants which have taken advantage of the mild weather. Birds, too, seem to be nesting early, with Blackbirds reported carrying food and Robins nest-building before the end of January. Insects have been less in evidence, perhaps because there’s not been very much sunshine. The only butterfly reported in Tower Hamlets before the end of February was a Brimstone in Cemetery Park on 24 February, and the first bumblebee was reported the following day in the Cow Garden on Eric Street.