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

Year 5 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 5 Primary Teaching positionRands...

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

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

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone