There has been a Spring feel in the air this weekend. Dunnocks are taking up residency in one of my garden nest boxes and today, out in the edgeland, the birds were certainly singing rather than chirping. It was a brief visit, on a whim and only extending to the sewage works and its surroundings but in a short space of time I found again the male Kestrel, Robins darting around in pairs, two Buzzards stood watch over the large scrub and Goldcrests, Greenfinches, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush praising the bright weather with warm, flutey notes of their own. In the Sewage works woods, a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers followed one another in a fashion that only early Spring can set. A lone Chiffchaff, a regular in the large scrub, downed his guard and his silence and for the first time sang that tell-tale chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff song. In the Sewage Works meadow I watched on as a photographer tried patiently, but desperately, to capture golden images of a Siberian Chiffchaff, a cousin, a sub-species of the others flown over for the Winter from Siberia, Some three and a half thousand miles from its breeding grounds east of the Pechora river.
Despite all of this activity, today it was a flower on the edge of the arable land behind the sewage works that caught my attention. It has been a while since I’ve seen any flora out here that isn’t a mass of green or brown and on first sight I thought I had stumbled on wild Chamomile which would have been quite a rare sight, now restricted to the south and south-west of the British isles. A quick shout-out on twitter established that what I had stumbled across was a far more common relative of the true wild Chamomile; the Scentless Mayweed.
The Mayweed may appear nothing more than a daisy, it may not be ‘beautiful’ or particularly interesting but after growing tired of the darkness, the cold and the absence of any flora remotely interesting over the last three months, I was delighted to find it. It is a common flower of arable fields as a weed, on bare waste ground, spoil heaps and by roads. It has been growing wild in these isles since the Bronze age, perhaps benefiting from a growth in arable type farming. Remarkably each flower head can contain 345 to 533 seeds whilst a single plant may produce 10,000 to 200,000 seeds but figures of over a million have been quoted. Interestingly though, Mayweed is self-incompatible; it cannot produce viable seed alone. This surely then emphasises its reliance on pollinators, on insects. An old-fashioned coalition, the plant benefits from pollination, enabling spread and colonisation whilst the insects get fed. Any plant that is good for invertebrates is good enough for me. I realise that this is a prime example of the beginnings of an ecosystem, a healthy ecosystem and that is all I ask for the edgeland.
It troubles me though, to see this plant in flower in early February. Like the birds so willing to nest, it is clear that this year everything is a little ‘early’. The mild winter has made haste with Spring and whilst that lifts my spirits, in the same breath it is a sure sign of the dramatic effects of global warming. I notice though, the straggly, aged nature of this Mayweed and the many other examples dotted around the field. The plant a whole foot tall and a foot wide, is this really the first flower of Spring in the edgeland? It is unlikely given that Mayweed traditionally flowers from June through to September. In fact it is likely to be the last flower of Autumn having never succumbed to Winter. This hardy perennial has pushed on, unperturbed by the cold and dark and has most likely flowered right through the so-called colder months. Natures ability to adapt to change never ceases to amaze me. These seasons of ours, so back-to-front in recent years never cease to amaze me either. It’s a topsy-turvy world out there and like the flowers I too am confused, I don’t have the answers. For now though I’m just appreciative of this simple vision of Spring; the first, or last wild flower.