It’s a touchy subject this climate change. It is one of those facts that we have to face, but simply put, some people don’t care. In fact, it is visible in the smallest of ways; as a forager, I notice tiny differences in when things are in season. Sometimes all I can do is encourage others to smell the diminishing species of wildflowers.
Earlier this year, I started noticing a few plants peeking out of the ground a little early. Wild garlic was a few weeks before I was expecting it. Alexanders were flowering in early February (even though this is a plant that can be foraged year-round, the flowers do not usually come out until March). Spring and summer passed, lockdowns came and went, and we ended up in Autumn.
Looking at the trees, it has been a bad year for nuts here in south Devon. The hazels, growing alongside a stream at a local play park, were drooping with nuts last year. This year, there was barely a bend in their branches. The chestnuts outside the office here on Riverford’s farm provided me with plump, smooth, roast-able goodies last year. Last month, they were smaller, many of them wrinkled and just not that exciting.
Berries have behaved oddly this year, too. Elderberries, in particular, seemed to either be over ripe and dry, or completely under ripe and green. Last year I remember a foraging walk to say goodbye to a friend leaving for Germany. Jana sat on my shoulders reaching high into the tree giggling over a bountiful harvest. Not this year though.
My mushroom sites, which range from small copses of deciduous trees whose leaves seemed to fall much later this year, to grass verges and banks which are still being mown by local authorities are telling a similar story. Finding third and sometimes fourth flushes of species that would usually be hibernating by now is indicating a much warmer start to Winter.
There’s a patch of unused grass opposite the new staff canteen on the farm, which has been recovering from the disruption of building works. Several types of wildflowers are cropping up among the grass and it’s been beautiful to watch nature take over again.
So, here I am, on the first of December 2020, having picked a handful of pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) in my lunch break. This particular gem has usually finished by the end of October and it’s got me wondering what next year will bring. Which plants will I be seeing early, or late, or even not at all?
Climate change is clearly a visible thing, especially to those who notice.