Garden Observation is Important

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the appearance of my first daffodil in the garden the past couple of weeks because it’s one of the key dates which marks my garden’s progress through the year. At last, Saturday’s sunshine turned a week-long stubborn hint of yellow into a fully opened flower and I could jot down an early March date in my diary. They’ve opened at around the usual time this year, though they’ve been as early as mid February and as late as mid March in the past. I suspect the long period of cold we had a couple of weeks ago helped to keep those buds firmly shut.

Garden observation is important. Gardening books may tell us the ideal time for sowing seeds or planting out, but it’s our own observations and experience which tells us the real timetable our own gardens follow. I have a cold clay soil, so the current absence of emerging weeds tells me it’s still too cold to plant and my outdoor sown seeds need a soil warming cloche to snuggle under. There’s no need for me to horrify my neighbours by plonking my bare bottom on the plot!

Continued garden observation is important in other ways too. You may have taken part in January’s Great Garden Birdwatch and given your observations to the RSPB. You will have joined over 300,000 people who took part in the world’s biggest bird survey. Over 6 million birds were counted, which is far more observations than a team of scientists could achieve on their own. The results are currently being analysed ready for an announcement at the end of March.

The data gathered allows scientists to monitor trends and understand how our garden birds and other wildlife are faring. This also feeds into ways the threatened species can be helped and for the prioritisation of any information or advice given, such as the best ways to garden for our wildlife’s health.

The Great Garden Birdwatch is a well established project, but there’s one that’s even older called Nature’s Calendar. So far this holds the dates of 3 million individual seasonal wildlife sightings, dating from as far back as 1736. It’s one of the longest serving biological records of its kind in the UK and is widely used to monitor the effects of climate change.

The records cover a number of spring and autumn events such as when the first active insects are seen and when birds begin their nesting behaviour. I saw my first bright yellow brimstone butterfly in the garden at the weekend, along with a buff-tailed bee and a noisy bumble. Along with the daffodils, their appearance are always the key signs of spring for me.

The major trends noted so far by Nature’s Calendar are spring events are getting earlier and autumn later, with early plant growth starting between 10 days to 2 weeks earlier. That’s suggested by my daffodil dates too, though my dataset probably isn’t long enough to show whether I have a weather-based blip in my garden, rather than a climate-change induced trend.

This information is important because scientists are seeing that species are adapting to these changes at different rates. For example if the main time that caterpillars and other insects emerge changes to a different one to when chicks hatch and eat them, then this has major consequence for the future results of our Great Garden Birdwatch.

It all serves to highlight how connected everything is and how changes in very simple observations can tell us a lot about our changing world.

If you’re interested in taking part in Nature’s Calendar, visit The Woodland Trust’s website:

Michelle Chapman is a gardener, freelance writer and garden blogger based in Chippenham, Wiltshire. She is the author of the award winning blog, Veg Plotting, where she writes about her small town garden, seasonal food and anything else which strikes her whilst up at her allotment. Her blog can be found at