Small changes, big changes

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.

Blue bugle - in the Dordogne region

Blue bugle – in the Dordogne region

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.

Mynydd Bach in spring 2013 through a wet windscreen

Mynydd Bach in spring 2013 through a wet windscreen

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.

Mossy hedge on Mynydd Bach

Mossy hedge on Mynydd Bach

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.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Small changes, big changes

  1. We just had the WORST summer in ages here in Northern Tasmania. We had 3 rain events in 5 months and lots of bushfires that removed the vegetation under the trees and drove the native animals into our gardens. The deciduous trees are a riot of incredible colour at the moment and everyone is revelling in the beauty but I know it symbolifies that the trees think they have moved to Canada and this winter is going to be a doozy. It’s very easy to get lost and depressed in the progress of global warming but glad to see you share a desire to throw some music into the tangle to lighten the load. We humans might have done this, but we humans are going to have to do what we can to minimise the effects and in the process, we are going to learn an awful lot about ourselves and our tenuous relationship with the complex series of ancient cycles that we ignore at our peril. Cheers for another lovely post. I buy bugleweed for my garden because it survives the long hot summers. This year I rethink my garden and will be including more perennials, food trees and desert plants thanks to our last summer. Cheers for the great post and that moss is gorgeous 🙂

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