Country: Nature Notes

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"OAK BEFORE ash, we're in for a splash," says the old adage. "Ash before oak, we're in for a soak." This year the race has been a close one. Oaks came out into their buttery yellow buds long before their rivals were showing any sign of life; but then, in the cold winds, they seemed to hang fire. The leaves took a long time to open fully, and now the ashes have caught up.

Presumably this suggests that the summer will be mixed. But do old country sayings have any real validity? The present state of the leaves is more likely to reflect the weather of the past season than to predict what lies ahead, and it was probably the vast amount of rain which we had last winter that influenced the oak-ash balance.

The same is true of wild fruit in autumn. A heavy crop of hawthorn or rowan berries is said to presage a hard winter, and to be nature's way of providing extra food for birds. A more practical explanation is that it results from good weather in summer.

Nobody now believes, as our rural ancestors did, that pigs can see the wind. Nevertheless, some old sayings do seem to contain meteorological wisdom. Red sky at morning is still shepherd's warning, and red sky at night still shepherd's delight.