It was a wet and windy New Year but local amateur botanists were out taking part in the New Year Plant Hunt, and there was plenty to see.

Each year the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland organises a New Year Plant Hunt, this is the eighth year. They ask volunteers to take a walk on the two days either side of New Year and note down any plants that are in flower. This is then entered into a national database and is providing valuable information to track the effects of our changing climate.

The awful weather restricted the activity this week but there were nine walks recorded and a remarkable 43 different species were seen in flower, ranging from Alder and Annual Meadow Grass to Winter Heliotrope and Yarrow.

Sidmouth Herald: Rock samphire growing near Millennium Walkway

Some of these are no surprise. Winter Heliotrope and Snowdrops are expected to be in flower in the middle of winter, there are clues in the names. But Rock Samphire, one of the beach specialists that grows down by the Millennium Walkway, is supposed to flower in the summer from June to August. The Feverfew growing near the Rugby Club in Heydon’s Lane is supposed to put out its daisy-like flowers in July and August.

Sidmouth has been renowned for its mild winter climate for at least 200 years and that was one of its selling points when the local visitor industry was developing. Of course, the climate changes constantly, you wouldn’t have found anything flowering in January a few thousand years ago at the end of the last Ice Age.

The problem is the current speed of change which has a number of causes including what we are doing to the atmosphere. Different groups and species that have grown to depend on each other find themselves out of step. Insects can be looking for their usual food but the plants have been and gone. Birds are trying to feed their young when they usually have a boom in the insect population but that has passed.

Nature has adapted to the steady change over previous millennia and will adapt in the future but it will struggle to keep a workable balance. The New Year Plant Hunt is just one project to keep us informed about how things are going.

You can find out more about the national results and changes over the last 8 years on, and more about the local results on the Biodiversity Group website