Spring in January: Frogs, trees and bees are deceived by winter's unseasonal warmth

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St Hilary's day, New Year's Eve on the Julian calendar and, traditionally, the coldest day of the year, passed yesterday as one of the warmest on record.

Temperatures averaged 12C, above the seasonal average by 9C. More record-breaking warmth is expected this month, confusing plants and animals that should now be dormant. Daffodils, normally in bloom in March, are already out in St Mawes in Cornwall.

Dr Nigel Taylor, the curator at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, said: "The Crocus tomassinianus was in flower on New Year's Day, which is a record. This is nine days earlier than any on our records, which go back to the 1950s. We've also got Narcissus February Gold that's already five inches through the ground, which we shouldn't really be seeing for another month.

"Quite a number of plants haven't gone to sleep as they usually do. I would describe it as a case of 'no winter'."

Flowers are still in bloom that winter frost would normally have killed. Oak trees are still in leaf and rhododendrons in bloom. Frogspawn has also come early in some parts of the country, according to the Woodland Trust, whose Springwatch campaign collects first sightings of spring.

Dr Kate Lewthwaite of the Woodland Trust said: "We've got dragonflies hovering over our ponds, bumble bees still buzzing and looking for pollen, crab apples still on trees ... It's as if winter never started."

Chris Wardle, an assistant head gardener at Crathes Castle, Royal Deeside, said: "We had winter flowering vibernums flowering back in December - at least a month earlier than they should. The snowdrops are starting to push through the ground already. We don't usually see them for at least another month."

Climate change experts at the Met Office predict 2007 will be the warmest year on record globally, beating the record set in 1998. The average global temperature is expected to be 14.5C.

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