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Bluebell displays delayed by ‘Beast from the East’

Spring was arriving early before March’s cold weather put the brakes on signs of the new season such as bluebells.

While 2018 saw an early start to spring, the “beast from the east” delayed the blooming of bluebells in British woods, the Woodland Trust has said.

Carpets of flowers are now turning the ground of woods blue across the UK, but the first record of bluebells flowering came 39 days later than it did last year, data submitted to the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar shows.

By April 20 2017, there had been 716 records of bluebells flowering submitted to the Nature’s Calendar scheme, in which members of the public help record the changing seasons, but by the same time this year there had only been 73.

This year the first report of bluebells flowering was on March 20 in south-east England, compared to February 9 in south-west England last year, the Woodland Trust said.

A series of cold snaps in March put the brakes on spring (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The conservation charity said the fluctuations were an example of how some species were able to respond to the climate.

It came after an early spring due to mild conditions was stopped in its tracks by the freezing weather in March, dubbed the beast from the east.

Before the series of cold snaps, the Woodland Trust had received 352 individual pieces of “unusual” data which indicated the early arrival of spring, from hazel flowering in October to butterflies appearing in February.

Although our signs of spring now seem to be accelerating with the warm weather, we are still behind compared to last year's record Dr Kate Lewthwaite, Woodland Trust

Dr Kate Lewthwaite, who leads the Nature’s Calendar project, said: “The cold snap had a dramatic effect on spring’s progression.

“The rise in unpredictable and extreme weather may catch some species out, such as the early frogspawn which may have been killed by the frost.”

But it was positive that bluebell first flowering was delayed and avoided the cold and snowy conditions, the Woodland Trust said.

Compared to the benchmark year of 2001, when weather conditions most closely reflected the 30-year average from the Met Office, bluebells are around 12 days late.

A rare native white bloom among swathes of blue as bluebell carpets emerge late this year (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Other signs that spring is later than last year include fewer sightings of orange tip butterflies and swallows, and the first flowers of hawthorn and horse chestnut trees.

Dr Lewthwaite added: “Although our signs of spring now seem to be accelerating with the warm weather, we are still behind compared to last year’s record.”

She also urged more people to get involved in the Nature’s Calendar citizen science project to provide more data to help experts understand the impacts of the changing climate.

“The public are providing us with information that helps us better understand how flora and fauna is faring in a fluctuating climate – and we need more people to sign up.”

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