For the first time in almost six years, we recently drove the 1500 kilometres from home in the Midi to Wales. Since we progressed in a fashion that can only be called leisurely we took five days and saw a lot of countryside. Two things about the plant life struck me most forcibly.
First, though the climate seemed pretty much the same to us throughout – it rained throughout the journey north, the end of a cold wet spell everywhere, and the lowest temperature of 3degC was on the first day – the change in flowering plants as we moved north was striking. At home the verges were full of grape hyacinths, but by midday on Day One we were into cowslip country – I’ve never seen such thick drifts. Then came primroses and blue bugle, and finally in Wales the daffs were still hanging on and wild garlic growing like mad wherever there was shade. Here in the Midi none of these last four plants grow successfully in the wild.
It was a strong reminder that even when we don’t notice climate changes, plants do. It was an illustration of how they each have their range, due to a preference for a particular temperature, humidity and day-length. As the greenhouse effect increases, giving us weather that is not necessarily warmer where we happen to be but certainly weirder, expect these ranges to change and your local flora to respond, fast.
Which brings me to the second strong impression I had. Aberystwyth was our furthest point north, and we started the trek homewards by crossing Mynydd Bach in Ceredigion, an area we know very well, and which lies just over the 1,000 foot contour. The mountain has had two long periods under snow this year, the latest of which had only just ended when we dawdled past some familiar places.
I’ve never seen it so blasted by cold and dark – and don’t forget the effect of 2012’s miserable summer too. The dominant colours were the brown of dead grass and the black stumps of heather and cranberry. Not a good time for higher plants. But in the hedges the mosses and lichens were running wild.
It showed me that in just a few years time, maybe, as the result of climate change shifting the Gulf Stream, or bringing more storms and freak weather, the plant world is going to react a lot faster than politicians have managed to do so far.
This last week the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed the 400ppm barrier – when I was at school, we used the figure 300ppm in our biology essays. Ppm means part per million – if that seems like a small number and a small change to you, just reflect on the fact that this is the highest level of carbon dioxide in the last three million years. It’s still going up – and will continue upward for a while even if we start to slow down our burning of fossil fuels. Expect the unexpected. Read more on this here.
You won’t de surprised by this old song – but it’s a new take on it, and the video shows a belief I share in the redemptive power of music.
Coming up next: It’s this blog’s first birthday on May 6th, so there’ll be some celebrating and maybe a party bag give-away – but you’ll have to provide your own fizzy drink and cake.