I ventured out into the snowy wilds of west London this afternoon. It was icy cold and the biting wind made it feel even colder, but as I left my building I was amused to spot this adorable little fella guarding the front door. I suspect he was built by my lovely next-door-neighbours, who have an energetic toddler – he’s just the perfect size for a little one to have made!
Keep warm and safe out there, dear readers. And if you build a snowman, send me a snap! In weather like this, it’s important to keep an eye on your friends, neighbours and family too, especially anyone who is elderly, vulnerable, or in poor health. Sometimes even something as simple as an extra pair of fluffy socks or a hot flask of tea can make all the difference…
Like a number of other countries, Britain is currently sweltering in the midst of a heatwave. It’s hard enough for humans to cope in the hot weather (personally, I hate it – when it’s freezing cold you can always put another jumper on, but in this heat you can’t take your skin off!), but imagine what it must be like for our wildlife, which has already been battered by the strange weather we’ve been having so far this year.
Fortunately, anyone can help keep an eye on our wildlife during this heatwave – and here’s some simple and really good advice on how to do just that from Val Osborne, who is the head of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ wildlife enquiries team:
While we all revel in an unusually sunny summer, our garden wildlife might not be having such a good time. The hot weather could be causing natural water sources to dry up, meaning birds and hedgehogs could be left without anything to drink.
Turning your outside space into a home for nature by doing simple things like topping up your birdbath, creating a make-shift pond from a washing-up tub or putting down a saucer filled with water could offer a vital lifeline to some of our garden favourites that are already fighting against declines.
Some critters are going to need extra food too, as Osborne also notes:
When it’s particularly dry, worms tunnel right down into the soil, meaning they become out of reach to the wildlife that usually feasts on them, such as blackbirds, robins, hedgehogs and frogs.
If the hot, dry conditions carry on we may see wild plants start to die, meaning bees and butterflies will find it hard. If that happens, our gardens and the well-watered plants in them will become even more important to these insects.
You can find some more good advice on looking after wildlife in hot weather here.
Plus, if you have pets, there’s some great info from the Battersea Cats & Dogs Home on keeping them safe during a heatwave here.
Oh, and if you’re out and about, you can bring me back an ice lolly please!
Stay safe and stay cool…
Less than a month ago, I posted a picture of the snowy view from my front door. During this last week, conversely, it appears that Spring has decided to put in an early appearance instead.
This photo was taken last weekend at Syon Lane Community Allotment, which is already beginning to look a lot greener than it did the last time I was there back in January, with blossom starting to appear everywhere.
Despite what the weather forecast is saying, I’m hoping this really is the beginning of a new Spring…
This week, we’ve had a few beautiful, glorious sunny days in this corner of west London. In fact, it has been so lovely at times that you might have been forgiven for thinking that spring had finally arrived to relieve this seemingly never-ending and freezing cold northern hemisphere winter we’ve been shivering through. But you’d be wrong.
Despite the fact that spring actually officially begins this coming weekend with the vernal equinox, there appears to be little sign of it in the nation’s parks and gardens yet. I’ve seen plenty of pretty purple crocuses and a few cheerful yellow daffodils in neighbouring gardens, but even the usually early flowering magnolia trees in my area are only just beginning to bud, and most of the other local trees appear to be as bare as they were in January.
The situation seems to be the same across the country, with the Woodland Trust recently estimating that signs of the British spring are anything up to a month late in emerging this year – and they’d know, they have records tracking the start of spring that date back to the 1600s.
It’s been snowing in London today and there has been much talk of a white Christmas as a result, all of which prompted me to dig out some stuff I wrote about snow at Christmas and extreme winter weather round about this time last year (you can see the original posts here and here) and repost them on Another Kind Of Mind. The cold snap is going to continue, so make sure you wrap up warm now, and stay away from the yellow snow…
In the UK, a white Christmas is not as common an occurrance as you might think, mainly because December is early in the season for snow in most parts of Britain (snow is more common in January). And determining what exactly constitutes a white Christmas is a matter of debate.
For most people, when they think of a white Christmas they imagine precisely that – snow falling (and settling) on Christmas Day in large amounts. However, particularly for the purpose of placing bets on the matter, a white Christmas can be as insignificant-sounding as a single snowflake being observed falling during the twenty-four hours of 25th December. According to the Met Office website, the last Christmas to see conditions much like the former was 2004, when snow covered much of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, north-east and the far south-west of England.
That may have been cold, but count yourself lucky that you weren’t alive during the three hundred years between 1550 and 1850 when an unlucky Britain was in the grip of what became known as the ‘Little Ice Age’. Snow at Christmas was much more common during that period and its association with the season was cemented by the descriptions of festive snow in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol (Dickens, like any good Englishman should, had a strong, scientific interest in the weather).
There has been a distinct hint of winter in the London air these last few days. The days are visibly getting shorter, and the temperature is dropping rapidly. It’s the beginning of December already, and we’re only a matter of weeks from the Winter Solstice and the shortest day of the year. Christmas is less than a month away now, with all the chilly, frosty air and hoped-for snow all that entails. But the modern British winter is actually much milder than it has been in previous centuries, and that’s only partly due to global warming.
Human beings have certainly made one almighty mess of the Earth’s environment, which has had an inevitable knock-on effect on our delicate climate system – the very fact that the next week’s Copenhagen climate summit is happening at all is ample testimony to this. But winter temperatures really were colder in the past, and not just in Britain. Between about 1300 and 1870, Europe and North America found themselves in the grip of what became known as the Little Ice Age.
The Little Ice Age meant that, prior to 1870, winter temperatures were significantly lower and harsher than in the 20th and 21st centuries, and there is still much academic and scientific debate as to why. Some scientists argue that this cooling effect was the result of sunspot activity, others that it was due to the effects of volcanic activity or an instability in atmospheric pressure, still others that it came about after the demographic changes of the Black Death caused decreased agriculture and increased reforestation. Consensus on this one may take some time.
Whatever the cause, things did get seriously frosty for a while, an eventuality that had a huge impact on everyone in Britain, particularly (as ever) the poorer members of society – and, strange as it may seem, this five century-long cold snap is still playing a cultural role in modern British life. In fact, it was some of these early 19th century Little Ice Age winters, in particular, that – via the medium of one Charles Dickens – created the enduring cultural idea that a festive white Christmas was the norm (it isn’t – it is actually more likely to snow in January than at Christmas time in Britain).