Early bird is key to global warming

THE GOVERNMENT is to monitor the arrival of the first swallow in spring to check on the progress of global warming.

It is one of 35 indicators which have been officially chosen to detect the initial signs of climate change.

Without needing to be prompted by the weekend's collapse of Beachy Head, which the Environment Agency said was climate change-induced, Government scientists have quietly started to monitor and bring together a mass of small and large events, both in the natural world and in society, which may be the first signs of a hotter planet.

Some of these are already strongly suggesting that climate change is no longer a theoretical calamity predicted by the supercomputers of the Met Office, but is already with us.

The indicators they have chosen range from the arrival dates of swallows in spring and the leafing dates of oak trees, to the number of possible skiing days in Scotland, the number of insurance claims for "major weather perils" and the number of human cases of Lyme Disease, caused by a tick which flourishes in warmer weather.

The first indications, certainly from the evidence assembled about the behaviour of birds, plants and insects, is that the greenhouse effect is now here. Over the past twenty years many events in the natural world have started to take place much earlier in the spring, in a way entirely consistent with a warmer climate

Much of this evidence is startling and when it is assembled, as the Government is doing, it is compelling. The orange tip butterfly, for example, is now emerging about 11 days earlier than it was 20 years ago. The leaves on oak trees at a monitored site in Surrey are emerging about three weeks earlier than when records began in 1947 and the swallow is arriving earlier at eight different bird observatories. Twenty species of birds have shifted their egg-laying dates an average of 8.8 days earlier in the 25-year period from 1971 to 1995.

The importance of the Government's new initiative to bring all this together is that for the first time it puts official emphasis on monitoring, as well as prediction.

Until now most of the effort and funding in the fight to combat global warming - hundreds of millions of pounds - has gone into climate prediction. Scientists with complex computer models could happily tell you what was likely to happen in 50, 75 or 100 years, but were unable to tell you what was happening now, as noting that the egg-laying date of the chaffinch was weeks earlier than before was regarded as a suitable occupation only for types in anoraks.

But official recognition has finally come of the fact that dramatic trends may suddenly emerge from large numbers of small observations, once they are plotted, and the need to observe the many minute changes which may be the first signs of a dramatically warmer world is now accepted.

The mass of information is being brought together in a single database, coordinated by Professor Melvin Cannell of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology in Edinburgh.

His unpublished pilot study, "Indicators of Climate Change in the UK," which is now being reviewed by officials at the Environment Department, contains an initial 35 indicators chosen to register global warming's effect. They begin with climate and temperature itself. Obvious measures such as the number of hot and cold days and the amount of rainfall are joined by subtler indicators like soil moisture amounts, amounts of groundwater stored in chalk and the number of times a year the Thames Barrier is closed (an indicator of the rising sea-levels global warming is predicted to cause).

Social indicators include the value of annual domestic claims for subsidence (which increases in very hot dry summers), amount of gas consumed in winter, and the number of holidays taken within the UK. Agricultural indicators selected include areas of vineyards in the UK, yields of non-irrigated potatoes and the amount of late summer hay yields. These latter two categories are more likely to show changes once climate change is firmly established. But it is the changes in wildlife behaviour that are pointing to global warming's arrival already.

Two of the scientists helping coordinate the Government's data, Tim Sparks, of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology at Monk's Wood near Peterborough, and Humphrey Crick, of the British Trust for Ornithology, gave remarkable information of their own on climate-related changes in plant life last week when they published the first report of their new monitoring network.

They compared the flowering of four different plants in 1998 with records made a century ago and found all to be much earlier.

Mr Sparks, who is an environmental statistician, holds a number of similar remarkable records not yet in the Government database. He quotes the Hertfordshire Natural History Society, whose record of the dates of arrival of six migrant species of birds show the swallow is now arriving in Hertfordshire on about March 26 as against April 8 in the 1890s.

"All these records show changes in behaviour which is entirely consistent with a warmer climate," Tim Sparks said.

"Soon," said Humphrey Crick, "We shall be waiting for the first swallow of the winter."

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution