Journalists often ask me ‘what does spring mean to you?’ and there is perhaps more to that question than first meets the eye, with both technical and social definitions of the word “spring” in common usage.
Definitions of spring
Meteorologists conventionally define each season as three months long and spring in the UK as March, April and May.
The spring Equinox on 20th March is when the day and night are approximately the same length. In the southern hemisphere, 20th March is the date of the autumn equinox.
In temperate parts of the world, spring is the season that follows winter and is conventionally associated with the fresh growth of vegetation, germination of dormant seeds, resuming of activity in hibernating creatures and the start of animal and plant reproduction.
This widely accepted social understanding causes some issues as the climate begins to change and in the UK the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar volunteers commonly report frogs spawning, active insects or spring flowers sighted before Christmas. In fact the mild weather so far this year caused us to ask in January ‘is winter the new spring’?
What does spring mean to others?
William Wordsworth wrote perhaps the most famous spring poem:
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
William Blake wrote:
Sound the Flute!
Now it’s mute.
Day and Night
In the dale
Lark in Sky
Merrily Merrily to welcome in the Year
It’s interesting that the great seasonal recorders of the past like Robert Marsham from Norfolk who began making records in 1736 only recorded spring events such as tree budburst; perhaps in contrast those signs heralding the end of the year such as leaf tinting and fall that posed an unwelcome reminder of winter around the corner.
Surviving winter is no longer a matter of life or death for most of us, but I think that ancestral connection with the excitement of spring signs still remains.
Even now, far more of our Nature’s Calendar volunteers record spring signs than autumn ones, despite regular pleas about the importance of making autumn records too.
What does spring mean to me?
In early spring, a walk in the woods can reveal tantalising signs of the season to follow: whether the minute, shocking pink of a female hazel flower, a stray active ladybird going about its business or a boldly singing blackbird. A peek under the leaf litter can reveal hidden growth of bluebells and wild garlic, promising a visual feast to come.
The first glimpse of residual daylight as I leave the office as the nights begin to shorten is heart warming.
I love to fill my house with reminders of spring- flowering daffodils and crocus, bright yellow primroses. My greenhouse has a gorgeous fragrant hyacinth, banished there as my husband can’t tolerate the smell, but a great excuse for me to nip out to sniff it on even the wettest, most miserable of days…
And finally, for me, the return of the swifts and swallows is another amazing moment: it’s such a thrill to welcome them back each year; the skies have seemed empty without them since they left.
I record the natural signs of spring I see through our Nature’s Calendar survey: will you help too? Click here to join in.
What does spring mean to you?
Do any of these images resonate or does spring mean something entirely different to you? Please get in touch and tell us…
Kate Lewthwaite, Citizen Science Manager