By CHRIS HILL, Rural affairs correspondent
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Don’t be fooled by the unseasonably mild scenes – the icy return of winter is just around the corner. Rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL reports.
With the sun shining, flowers blooming and birds chattering, anyone out enjoying the recent mild weather could be forgiven for thinking that spring had sprung early.
And the scenes captured by EDP photographers around the region yesterday are certainly a stark contrast to the seasonal norm of dark mornings, frozen windscreens and icy pavements.
But make the most of the balmy January air while you still can – as forecasters are warning that winter could return with a vengeance at the weekend.
A reversal in wind direction is expected to bring much colder air from the north east in the next few days, with the possibility of snow by Saturday.
But before the cold snap bites, people across East Anglia have been savouring the spring-like sights at beaches, woodlands and visitor attractions.
Phil Garner, a forecaster at Norwich-based Weatherquest, said: “We have basically had winds blowing in from the south-west for the last five days and it has brought a lot of mild days. We’ve been seeing temperatures of 10-11 degrees, which is a good four or five degrees above the average for this time of year.
“It is feeling very spring-like in that sense, but it will only be for a very brief interval. As we go through the next few days we’ve got colder winds coming in from the north-east, particularly on Saturday, which will bring colder air across for Sunday and Monday.
“I think on Saturday we are going to be looking at daytime temperatures of three degrees at best, so it is a real contrast with the temperatures we have got today.
“There is a possibility of some light flurries of snow for Friday night and into Saturday, and the potential for some more significant snow showers on Saturday, when there will be a very strong and cold easterly wind developing.
“I don’t think we will see much on the ground, but there could be some small accumulations.”
At this time in 2012, East Anglia was enduring its driest start to the year for six years, while a period of plummeting temperatures and snowfall followed in February.
Mr Garner said the seasonal variance was all down to the unpredictable meanderings of the Jet Stream – the fast-flowing, high-altitude current of air which dictates our weather.
“The Jet Stream has been north of Britain lately, but now it is moving south we are seeing high pressure developing over Scandinavia, and that is where our cold snap is coming from.
“It may well be that this cold air could last throughout January, but there is a degree of doubt as to whether we see a return to milder conditions by the end of next week.”
As well as bringing many people out to enjoy the sunshine, the weather has also prompted some early arrivals of nature’s traditional harbingers of spring, such as trees in bud, flowers blooming early and birds’ mating calls.
Norfolk farmer and conservationist Chris Skinner has seen many of them on his land at High Ash Farm in Caistor St Edmund, outside Norwich.
“One of the banks here is absolutely covered in primroses and wild strawberry plants, which is a real delight to see,” he said. “I have got great spotted woodpeckers drumming – they are two males and they are starting to establish their territory. You normally wouldn’t hear them until mid to late February.
“I also managed to record a green woodpecker going into its nest with a mate and they both drummed together, which I had never heard before. It is a sign of them pairing up and thinking about mating.
“On Monday morning, for the first time, I heard a robin doing a full dawn-chorus call. They are setting up territory already and the male is singing to maintain a relationship.
“Wherever you look there are signs of spring, but don’t be worried if you get four inches of snow on your delicate flowers. At this time of year, you go two steps forward and then when the cold blast comes it is two steps back. But our native wildlife is really used to this and makes the most of the weather at any particular time.”
Steve Collin, a senior reserves officer for the Norfolk Wildlife Trust was out coppicing trees yesterday at Foxley Wood, between Norwich and Fakenham.
He said: “Over the years I have noticed that spring comes along with a series of false starts. One day you will see a primrose coming through and the next it is covered in two feet of snow.
“It is certainly unseasonably warm at the moment, and we have seen one early purple orchid coming into life – but then you always get one precocious example of a species that has a go before anything else. It is one of nature’s survival tactics.
“I have seen some snowdrops and a few daffodils on the side of the road but, although the sun is out, spring has not sprung here in the woods.”
The unusually mild weather has brought larger-than-usual crowds to many East Anglian tourist and visitor attractions.
Mark Noble, commercial manager at Pensthorpe Wildlife and Gardens, said: “It’s been a promising start to the year with milder weather boosting visitor numbers at the reserve, as well as in the shop and cafe. The warmer weather has also encouraged our spring bulbs to begin showing their heads through the soil a little earlier than we would normally expect to see them.”