What a peculiar winter we’ve had. Proof, if needed, that the boffins are perhaps right about global warming. I’ve lived in Barton for nearly twenty years and in that time can remember quite a few periods of snow, ice and sub-zero temperatures, but not in the last few winters. A bit of research on the internet (try www.pascalbonenfant.com British weather 1700-1849) reveals that our weather has always been unpredictable and sometimes extreme. Over time the weather appears to go in cycles. Is that what’s happening now? If so, why has it happened so suddenly?
Global warming is a combination of factors which have a cumulative effect. Are volcanic eruptions to blame? No, they have both a warming and a cooling impact on the climate. Carbon dioxide, along with many other greenhouse gases, is released into the atmosphere but in relation to other emissions contributes only an insignificant amount of warming. On the other hand, the dust particles shield us from the sun which cools the atmosphere. In total there were 73 eruptions in 2019 with a major one in New Zealand last December.
This winter we had a few frosts prior to Christmas followed by excessive rainfall in January and February along with strong winds. Storms Ciara and Dennis wreaked havoc across the country. Following on from a wet autumn this made life extremely difficult for arable farmers. Crops can survive a short time submerged but if the water can’t drain away, they then begin to rot. Potato harvest usually ends in November but last year, in some areas, it was far too wet for machinery to get on the land and they were left in the ground. Waterlogged land meant that farmers were unable to get on with preparations to sow the next crops. A lot of barley and wheat is normally drilled in the autumn and this just wasn’t possible in many places.
As I write this in mid-March the soil has had no chance to dry out and farmers have continued to experience difficulty cultivating the land in order to sow their spring crops. Where beet has been grown cereals usually follow and the next crop of beet is also normally sown in March. The weather needs to change dramatically for this to happen. Norfolk, believe it or not, is supposed to be the driest county in Britain; that is why, combined with the soil types, it’s predominately arable. We are fortunate that we don’t have acres still submerged in water. March is also the month when farmers put fertiliser on their growing crops but even locally, they’re likely doing more harm than good trying to drive across saturated fields. Modern farm machinery is so big and heavy. Using tracks instead of wheels lessens the damage but even with these it’s still impossible to get on sodden land without causing some damage to the soil structure. Breckland, however, has such light sandy soil it doesn’t ever get seriously waterlogged and land work is able to continue regardless.