Nature Now - December

Nature Now

The start of meteorological winter heralds in cold clear days and freezing nights, which once again have followed a very mild and dry autumn. In fact this year ranks as one of the top three warmest years on record worldwide – as climate change advances – together with 2016 and 2015!

The shortest day of the year falls on December 21st, the winter solstice, after which day length starts to increase again. During these cold nights – following the Full Super Moon on 3rd December – take a look up to the heavens to enjoy our dark night skies at their best, including on December 13th when the major Geminid meteor shower is at its peak.

Whilst many farm animals have now been brought indoors, winter crops such as wheat and oil seed rape are already well-established and growing slowly, and Brussel sprouts are now being harvested for the all-important Christmas dinner! Out to sea meanwhile, Cod have come inshore to breed and spawn.

The mornings may be frosty, and the trees have now lost their leaves leaving them bare – making them less vulnerable to damage from stormy high winds typical of this season. This leaves any clumps of Mistletoe (a semi-parasite on other plants) exposed, which is generally to be found on Lime and Apple trees. Its white sticky berries are spread by Mistle thrushes eating the fruits and then wiping their beaks on other host trees. Mistletoe is of course well-known to us as a pretext for a Christmas kiss, though its uses date back to ancient times when Celtic druids used it in medicine and sacrificial ceremonies. Other well-known evergreen plants associated with the winter festive period are “the Holly and the Ivy”, which we bring in to our homes and create floral wreaths – remember though to leave some berries behind on the bushes for the birds to eat!

Animals face a struggle for survival through the cold lean winter months, both those that go in to hibernation (such as Hedgehogs and Bats) and those that remain active, including garden and farmland birds. Our bird numbers are boosted by birds from Scandinavia that migrate here to escape the freezing weather further north. Robins adorn many a Christmas card, probably because they can still be seen singing through the winter, which they do to defend their feeding territories prior to pairing up to breed in the New Year. You can help birds (and other wildlife) by leaving dead stems with seed heads standing in your garden flower beds for winter flocks to feed on, or of course putting out bird seed bought from the shops during cold conditions.
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