Will we hear the first call of the cuckoo earlier this year than last?

After the coldest December in 100 years of records, this has greater significance than as a rite of spring in the letters pages of newspapers.

It’s churlish, as well as mistaken, to dismiss the cuckoo chroniclers as other-worldly eccentrics. Call them, instead, phenologists. They deserve the scientific title of those who detail the unfolding of nature’s calendar because the records of amateur naturalists of the arrival of migratory birds, the first frog spawn of the year and the date when hedges and trees burst into blossom provide some of the best evidence we have of the steady advance of the season over the last 40 years.

The most famous data collector, Gilbert White, recorded the earliest and latest dates for plant and animal events over a 25-year period of the 18th century. The Royal Meteoro-logical Society took up the notebook and pencil in 1891 and for the next 58 years, the observations of hundreds of people throughout Britain showed that flowering dates for summer species could be as many as 21 days early while spring flowers could be 34 days late in blooming.

Until the last decade, evidence of the link between seasonal events and temperature was largely due to a handful of dedicated indviduals. However, national recording has been resumed by the UK Phenology network and boosted by television’s Springwatch. In my neck of the rapidly greening woods, daffodils in full frill are already being jostled by forget-me-nots and the first bluebells, in line with the prediction of a late start and rapid catch-up.

If only I had the self-discipline of a phenologist I would know whether my sense that spring is sprinting too fast is an indication of climate change or just of advancing years.