Old wives tales win out this winter

BEES stopping hives with wax; trees weighed down by berries; winter migrants arriving weeks early – were these portents of a harsh winter just an old wives’ tale?

Wildlife pundits say these signs have a range of causes but recent frost and snow seem to show the old wives have the upper hand.

Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Neil Fletcher insists nature cannot predict weather any better than we can. “Some birds migrate in big numbers because the weather is bad where they came from or they ran out of food.

“Birds come from all over North Eastern Europe; lots of our familiar garden birds such as blue tits, great tits and chaffinches are not British birds – they came over before Christmas, probably due to very strong north-easterly winds.

They all react to conditions at the time and no-one predicted the terrible winter last year. Holly and hawthorn had lots of berries this year but that’s probably due to warm and dry flowering conditions which aided pollination. Where bees are concerned, we happened to have had very cold nights and the bees have insulated their hives a bit better.”

Sophie McCallum from the Sussex branch of the RSPB noted recent sightings of waxwings have led to speculation of an influx this winter.

She said these striking birds come to the UK from Scandinavia every few winters and in between you would be lucky to see one at all.

“Waxwings only visit the UK very erratically and every winter we wait expectantly to see if this will be the year. Reported sightings suggest that we are in for a treat this winter.” She urges people to avoid cutting any hedges with berries on until they have all been eaten.

Prizewinning Blackboys Texel sheep farmer Jim Horn said: “My sheep haven’t grown any thicker fleeces. Hawthorn and holly trees are a picture with red berries but I think predicting a cold winter is a bit of an old wives’ tale. It’s down to weather conditions in the spring.”

But as the cold snap gathers pace, it appears the ‘experts’ perhaps don’t know as much as the birds and bees. When asked what his bees were doing, beekeeper Alan Appleton from Arlington said: “I don’t know. It’s been too cold to go down and look!”

For more information about feeding birds in your garden visit www.rspb.org.uk