Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Changing World....

I used to love the snow - until this year. This has been the most grindingly depressing of winters with endless months of grey skies punctuated by the odd hour of sunshine, albeit accompanied by icy winds and icy pavements. In Strasbourg snow in February is the norm, located as it is at the foot of the Voges mountains, but we don't expect it in Brussels in the final days of March. Leaving my office last Thursday evening it was snowing yet again, and I could not have been more miserable.

But yesterday it all changed. Now, when you are 8 years old and you wake up and look out of your bedroom window and see sunshine, what is the first thing you think of? Cricket, apparently, and it doesn't matter if dad is still sleeping, wake him up and let's get going!

Actually, it was a beautiful morning, and there was a certain amount of pleasure in being the first to play cricket in the local park this year. To George's delight a couple of young Indian guys stopped off to cheer for some minutes. You don't see much cricket in Belgium.

Then there was a wonderful 'Belgian' moment. We took a bit of a drinks break, and retired to a nearby park bench. A family strolled past, and took a huge interest in our stumps, which were about 10 yards away from our seat, and seemingly unattended. The husband and wife walked around the stumps a few times before producing a camera and photographing the children in front of them. Perhaps they had Japanese blood in them, I don't know....

But there is a serious aspect to this bizarre weather pattern. About a week ago in Parc du Cinquantenaire, after a dusting of snow, I came across a dead Bumblebee. These should still be incubating at this point, as it is about this time of the year that the queens should be establishing their colonies and laying eggs. This wasn't a dead queen that I found, but would certainly have been one of a queen's offspring, as her eggs are laid first.

The explanation for this is climate change. In fact, even the ducklings in Parc Leopold and Square Marie Louise came early this year.

With increasing temperatures comes increased precipitation. Whilst the warming is global, the climate change can be local, as in our case. In Brussels it rains pretty much the same as it does in south east England, but it snows far more. The first male Bumblebees, when forced out of the colony, are not equipped to cope with icy winds and snow. On Saturday George and I watched a Canada Goose trying to cover her two chicks with her body as they shivered on the snowy bank. They, of course, are very well suited for this weather, but the indiginous species are not. The new arrivals could, quite reasonably, replace the established species fairly quickly given the current speed of change that we are witnessing.

No bees equals no pollination of flowers. Loss of biodiversity has knock-on effects that are often unpredictable, and can be irreversible.

Whilst nobody knows what is the 'background rate' of species extinction, it is clear that extinctions are above the norm at present.

I wonder if any generation has ever witnessed such a rapid change in the natural world.

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