1 Apr 2014

Potten End Newsletter Article 15

This article originally appeared in the Potten End Newsletter, April 2014.

Potten End Weather

Conquering the world on horseback is easy;
it is dismounting and governing that is hard.
– Genghis Khan

Recent reports suggest that Genghis Khan’s incredibly successful advance through Mongolia may have been helped by the mild, wet winters after a significant dry spell.

Scientists studying a 1,112 year tree ring record show that there was a fifteen year period of persistent moisture which was unprecedented in the previous 1,000 years.

This could have led to a rapid rate of growth of grassland which provided significant fodder for his war horses and favoured the formation of Mongol political and military power.

One other equally speculative consideration of a mild winter like the one we’ve just experienced is how insects, be they pest or delight, will fare. Common wisdom suggests that harsh winters decimate the insect population. But, to paraphrase a recent scientific study: “it depends”.

Insects relay on a huge number of strategies to survive the winter and it is more dependent on the availability of food than the actual minimum temperatures. It is thought that a mild winter can be more detrimental to the insect population than a harsh winter. During a mild winter, the hibernating insects may emerge earlier only to find that flowers have not developed sufficiently to provide them with enough food to sustain them and they will starve to death.

Soil moisture is another factor affecting insect survival. A damp mild winter may encourage the growth of fungal pathogens that kill insects. On the other hand, a dry winter may cause insects to dry out and die. Some insects are better than others at preventing water loss and may thrive in drier conditions.

Diseases, predators and parasites that have strong effects on insect populations are all affected by the weather in some way. And there is always the timing of reproduction when spring arrives and the local weather conditions at the time which will have more effect than any over-wintering issues the insects may have experienced.

So, as you can see, simply predicting insect populations from the type of winter we’ve experienced is about as straight forward and reliable as predicting the summer’s weather in March!

As I write this article, we’re experiencing some nice warm dry weather. It’s the first prolonged dry spell for England since the start of December. The aquifers and reservoirs are full to the brim (possibly the fullest they’ve ever been) and we’re almost certainly not going to experience a hosepipe ban this year and possibly next year which is good news for gardeners and car-washers alike.

Let’s hope the dry spell lasts long enough to enable those who have been flooded out to rebuild their lives and return to some sort of normality more quickly.

The temperature, wind, rain and many other weather measurements can be monitored live on the Potten End Weather web site.