Is Spring coming earlier?

posted in: Gardening | 15
Is Spring coming earlier? Well you might find the answer if you’re interested in Phenology.  It’s the science of recording natural regularly occurring events. It’s name is derived  from the Greek words “phaino” (to show or appear) and “logos” (to study).  Indeed this year I’m looking forward to being one of the volunteer “Citizen Scientists”  for the UK’s Nature’s Calendar Survey in my locality of Perthshire. In fact you can volunteer as well!
Is Spring coming earlier? - beech leaves, ivy seed heads, lichen and cytisus seed heads
Is Spring coming earlier? – beech leaves, ivy seed heads, lichen and cytisus seed heads :photos taken 7th January 2012
a river in Perthshire frozen in winter
This photo was taken 7th Jan 2011. But this year 7th Jan 2012 we are not even encased in ice and snow.
The first written phenology records date back to around 974 BC by the Chinese. While the Japanese have been making phenological observations for the past 1200 years on the peak timing of the cherry and apricot blossoms. The UK survey contains data from as far back as 1684. As a result it’s also the longest written biological record in Britain.

Robert Marsham

Robert Marsham is phenology’s founding father here in the UK. In fact he began taking notice of the Indications of Spring in 1736 on the family estate in Strutton Strawless, Norfolk.  Furthermore he continued to meticulously note down significant dates for the next 62 years. Moreover he recorded a list of 27 natural events for more than 20 animals and plants. Consequently successive members of the same family kept on recording until the death of Mary Marsham in 1958.

Robert Marsham

Marshams 27 Observations of Spring



  • Snowdrop first flowering
  • Wood anemone first flowering
  • Hawthorn first flowering
  • Turnip first flowering
  • Hawthorn first leafing
  • Sycamore first leafing
  • Silver birch first leafing
  • Song thrush first heard
  • Ringdove first seen
  • Elm first leafing
  • Rowan first leafing
  • Oak first leafing
  • Beech first leafing
  • Horse chestnut first leafing
  • Sweet chestnut first leafing
  • Hornbeam first leafing
  • Brimstone butterfly first seen
  • Frogs and toads first heard croaking
  • Ash first leafing
  • Lime first leafing
  • Field maple first leafing
  • Swallow first seen
  • Cuckoo first seen
  • Nightingale first heard
  • Nightjar first heard
  • Rook first nest building
  • Rook young first seen


Map of first snowdrops in flower

In 1998  Tim Sparks a research biologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Cambridge revived Phenology recording in the UK. While in 2000 the Woodland Trust also joined with the centre to promote the  recording to a wider audience. Over the years Spring and Autumn watch have also encouraged their viewers to send their reports to the survey via the BBC. But now you send the data directly to Natures Calendar.



Is Spring Coming Earlier?

I often  make notes of the first indications of the spring flowering plants and Scottish wild flowers  in my locality. However I’ll also be recording the following data. However I know that I’ll not spot all the birds on the list. In addition I even have to take note of the date I first cut the lawn in spring!
Phenology Report
Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh.

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15 Responses

  1. Desert Dweller

    Great topic! I started to document spring phenology in 2 different places nearby in 2010. Kind of fun, wish I had done this for the last 20 years!

    BTW, over the last decade, spring based on comparing like species is getting later by 2-3 weeks in my region of the Desert SW. But climate is measured in centuries, so perhaps the 90's-2002 were just warmer for us?

  2. Curbstone Valley Farm

    What an interesting post! I didn't realize there were so many groups around tracking these events. I know as gardeners we tend to always be watchful for the signs of seasons changing, but I rather like the idea of having a purpose for it other than for my own interest. I'll have to check out Project Budburst here. Thank you for the link!

  3. ann

    Certainly no signs of spring here in N. Colorado. I keep hoping. We do need moisture to arouse the sleeping beauties. Interesting post.


    It sure seems like the weather is changing and buds are bursting. I have been recording morning temperatures here and it seems to be a very strange winter. Not unlike the odd summer weather we had. I clicked the US link, thank you for that.

  5. Anna

    An interesting and well researched post Rosie. I have recorded such information in the past. If the current winter continues in the same vein I think that it sadly will be an early spring. Mind you I am not quite sure whether summer has yet finished – I still have roses in flower. Look forward to hearing more about your findings later this year.

  6. HolleyGarden

    Enjoy your year of observing! I think it would be very interesting to go back through the years and know when spring's arrival would be. I love the list – my irises are starting to bloom, but not the snowdrops, so maybe they're just confused. I'll have to wait for the snowdrops to bloom before I declare it "spring". I guess January's too early to declare spring anyway, but it sure feels like it!

  7. Melanie

    One can use phenological signs to decide when to plant different things in the garden. I love the new design of your blog Rosie. Happy New Year to you and have fun recording all the signs of Spring. ps the quote about chocolate had me laughing.

  8. Nancy @ A Rural Journal

    Very interesting! I usually write on my wall calendar when I see my first Robin, when the first tulip pops through, etc… Good for you for participating in this. 🙂

  9. Alistair

    Extremely interesting Rosie, you will need a fair bit of dedication here. Conditions here are also so very different to last Winter, although as we know all could change at any time. Over the years we have seen so many Winters that are not so Wintry, Springs which are pleasant and surprisingly mild Autumns, but how I wish we could get a few more Summers like that of 1976.

  10. Gardens-In-The-Sand

    So what does the shape of my skull have to do with the weather?

    I've been trying to pay attention to when things bloom and when the critters show up for a while (years), but in more of a general way, as in knowing the progressions, when the hellebores bloom, when the robins show up (now), and what is blooming when the monarchs get here…

    This project seems like something that you could really sink your teeth into…

    Last year, I got really serious about posting pictures on tumblr as soon as I took them, as part of my efforts to document bloom times, but sometimes it took months of shooting the same subject b4 getting a pic I could use…

    Appreciate the links, will have a look, if I was a better record-keeper, good things could result in other areas of my life…

  11. Andrea

    This climate change phenomenon will surely put a lot of work to both volunteers and scientists in your areas. They said hot climes will become hotter and colder climes become colder. It looks like it is not happening yet, as yours seem to be hotter for not having more snow. I am amazed at the early record of phenology in that area!

  12. Anonymous

    This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I enjoy seeing websites that understand the value of providing a prime resource for free. I truly loved reading your post. Thanks!


    Hi Rosie,

    Now you're talking, a love of my life, the world of phenological study. Can I be so cheeky as to ask for a link to my blog, as stated below?

    I'm not even sure you were aware that I had this blog and neither was I, of your love for phenology. Where can we see your data?

    Best Wishes