Michael McCarthy: Kew basks in the return of winter

Nature Notebook

Share
Related Topics

Children love snow, of course. But at the height of the recent white-out, when the unaccustomed blizzard had closed schools and stopped all London buses and trapped motorists in their cars at the sides of motorways, I met a grown-up who was also rubbing his hands in glee.

He was Tony Kirkham, the head of the arboretum at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Tony is the man who is actually in charge of the gardens at Kew Gardens, and he was delighted with the thick white blanket – nine inches of the stuff – which had been deposited over the 300 acres in his care.

Certainly, the fresh powder snow made Kew look wonderful, transforming what are anyway noble landscapes into vistas of an almost dream-like loveliness. But it wasn't the look of things that had made Tony so pleased when I wandered into his office. It was what it was doing for the trees, shrubs and plants all about us.

Firstly, he pointed out, for several years Kew had been experiencing drought conditions, and even the rains of the past two summers had not brought the soil moisture level up to what the trees required. But the heavy snow blanket, as it melted, would help to do that. Secondly, it might help to kill off some recent pests whose larvae overwintered in the leaf litter, not least the horse chestnut leaf miner moth, which came into Britain in 2002 from Macedonia and now wrecks the leaves of all the conker trees in Kew and a large belt of south and west London, from midsummer on. Thirdly, it would give everything a rest. Recent very mild winters and early springs have seen the seasons virtually merging, resulting in a longer growing period which puts the trees under stress. But the snow meant that "everything is shut down asleep and not even thinking about waking up". Tony said: "I'm delighted." May he be blessed with more snow in the future; but don't bank on it. It was a small but telling insight into what some of the consequences may be if climate change does away with old-fashioned winters altogether.

A green day on the feeder

Many of our garden birds – blue tits, great tits, goldfinches – seem to have vanished with the snow. Have they died? Have they gone elsewhere in search of food? However, they have been replaced on the feeder by two occasional but splendid visitors: a pair of siskins. These pine-forest finches look better in life than they do in the bird guides (usually it's the other way round). They look glowing green. The children exclaim: "What are those green birds!?"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Negotiator - OTE £24,000

£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An enthusiastic individual is r...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?