The beginning of the meteorological winter has brought in some heavy winter rain storms, which follow yet another very mild and dry autumn this autumn (bar a couple of recent cold snaps!). The shortest day of the year falls on December 21st, the winter solstice after which day length starts to increase again. The major Geminid meteor shower peaks on the night of December 13-14th, when the quarter-moon will set after midnight, so take a look up to the heavens to enjoy our dark night skies at their best during these long dark nights.
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 (even though a quarter of British people profess to hate them!). Out to sea meanwhile, Cod have come inshore to breed and spawn.
The trees have now largely lost their leaves, leaving them bare but making them less vulnerable to damage from the 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 with – 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 colder 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.