We live, I think, in the very first age of multiple surveys.
Almost anything that can be counted is counted, analysed, reported, debated and then largely forgotten, for this is also the age in which history was consigned to the past, to the limbo of once-known but now forgotten things. ‘The best film of all time’ was almost certainly made during the past five years, according to surveys of public opinion, as was the best popular tune of all time and the greatest-ever musical; the most beautiful woman ever, the world’s finest leader and the greatest fraudster of all time are almost certainly alive and well today; and the most damaging tsunami ever, the world’s worst earthquake and all-time record storms are sure to have occurred within the past twenty years. Perhaps an ignorance of history and an inability to comprehend events that occurred before our individual, personal story began … compounded with instant-access to virtually every contemporary happening … account for this failure to appreciate that significant people lived and significant events took place before our generation. Every contemporary occurrence is deemed to merit superlatives.
So it was with some caution that I read a report from the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) that an ‘unprecedented’ number of plants had been observed in bloom during the first days of January. Given that ‘unprecedented’ means ‘has never happened before’ this is a pretty spectacular claim; and it turns out that the reality is that this ‘unprecedented’ number is the highest number recorded on the four occasions on which the BSBI has conducted its New Year survey. Yet, allowing for this exaggeration which is typical of our society, the BSBI’s survey has produced some very interesting results. Cue Dr. Tim Rich, Plant Hunt co-founder, who is quoted on the BSBI website as having said, “With 2014 being the warmest year on record, we were expecting lots of wild flowers still to be in bloom over New Year. What took us all by surprise was quite how many people were happy to go out and look for them! Plant lovers spent up to three hours between 1st and 4th January hunting for wild plants in flower and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all of them for contributing to these amazing results.”
These amazing results found that, in a total of 2,908 records of plants in flower from across Britain and Ireland, an astonishing 368 different species were recorded in bloom. The most common plants were the Daisy and the Dandelion, which is not entirely surprising in a numerical sense and, although there are neither daisies nor dandelions blooming on the sides of the railway cutting behind my home … nor any other wild flowers as far as I can see … 39 different species of wild plants were in flower in Edinburgh. And I am happy to go along with the society’s use of the word ‘amazing’ to describe this finding even if I quibble at the use of the term ‘unprecedented’.
So what is the reason for this plethora of plants in flower at the beginning of January?
The most obvious is, as has already been noted, that 2014 was the warmest year since records began; a second reason is that this has been a relatively mild winter so far, with no frosty spells; and a third reason, the BSBI admits, is that more people took part in the survey this year, resulting in more plants being investigated in more parts of the country. Even so, there is ever-clearer evidence of climate change … I dislike the term ‘global warming’ … and ever-clearer signs that Mother Nature is becoming rather confused, with plants in flower when we would expect them to be dormant and when it is in these same plants’ better interests to be dormant. The frosts we can expect will play havoc with these early bloomers.