Europe's winter warmth puts nature in tailspin

A woman wearing a tank top runs in the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, where unseasonable warm weather is being experienced for this time of the year. (Kathy Willens, AP)
A woman wearing a tank top runs in the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York, where unseasonable warm weather is being experienced for this time of the year. (Kathy Willens, AP)

Rome - The daffodils are out in London, plum trees are blossoming in Milan and asparagus tips are pushing through the soil in eastern France.

Across Europe, unseasonably warm winter weather has left the natural world in a spin with plants, insects and animals convinced spring must be just around the corner.

The disruption of established weather patterns has put strawberries on festive menus in France, ensured an abundance of game in Germany's woodlands and seen tomatoes ripen for an exceptional third time on Italian balconies this year.

Climatic conditions

With grass still growing in the north of Scotland well into December, the famous Royal Dornoch links put the traditional switch to winter greens on hold and kept its mowers buzzing into the final days of 2015.

But alongside the serendipitous consequences for gourmets and golfers, unusual climatic conditions have also been linked to more unsettling trends.

Scientists and gardeners alike fret over whether this year reflects a worrying new normal created by global climate change.

More than 2 000 wildfires have ravaged swathes of northern Spain in recent weeks thanks to a combination of unusually warm weather and high winds.

Farmers across Europe meanwhile are grappling with the hard-to-predict implications of conditions which, while boosting the production of some crops, may reduce yields of others and allow pests to thrive later in the year due to the absence of a sustained winter cold spell to kill them off.

"It is strange to see how certain plants are already flowering crazily," said Hans-Jurgen Packheiser, a 76-year-old beekeper from Halver in Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia region.

"Some of the bees in my hives are already out and about looking for nectar. They think winter is already finished."

Salad leaves

In the Dordogne region of southwestern France, strawberry producers were surprised to see plants that would normally have to be protected from frost from mid-November onwards continue to bear fruit right up to Christmas.

"Even my father-in-law, who has been producing strawberries since 1956, has never seen anything like it," said Patricia Rebillou, the president of the local producers' association.

For French market gardener Jean-Louis Durrieux, the disruption of seasonal rhythms is less welcome.

"I have been doing this for 30 years and I've never seen lettuces so far advanced at this time of year. Salad leaves that we would normally harvest in mid-January were ready at the start of December."

With similar conditions across Europe, the result was a glut of ready-to-harvest plants which had left him with no choice but to throw away 60% of his October plantings, Durrieux said.

It has been a similar story for wild or ornamental plants.

Full bloom

On the French Riviera and in the Basque country straddling Spain and France, mimosas which would normally not flower until the end of January are already in full bloom, disconcerting florists who struggle to sell them at this time of year.

"They are magnificent this year," said Valerie Torres a grower in Bormes-Les-Mimosas. "But the season for them is going to be shortened because they don't sell particularly well over Christmas."

Wild fuchsia, which normally stops flowering in the autumn on the Atlantic coast of Britain and Ireland, remains in full bloom on the Isle of Islay, off the west coast of Scotland.


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