Spring starts today - a month late

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Today is officially the first day of spring - but it's up to a month late.

The enduring spell of cold and dull weather in Britain and parts of western Europe has substantially delayed the arrival of the new season.

At the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, south-west London, there would normally be 100,000 daffodils in spectacular flower by this time, but only a few are showing. Kew's crocuses would normally be finished by now, but their carpet of blooms has not yet formed, and they are only just beginning to show - as are the garden's hyacinths. The snowdrops that would normally be over are still in flower.

It's the same story with the migrant birds that should be flocking in to Britain from Africa for the summer breeding season. Many have not yet crossed even the Strait of Gibraltar, according to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), because the weather in Spain has also been cold and wet.

For example, the most distinctive birdsong of early spring, the two-note call of the chiffchaff, is hardly audible yet, and there have been only half a dozen sightings of swallows, house martins and sandmartins. This time last year their arrival was well under way.

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