Nature on our doorsteps: When is the start of spring?

By Rosaleen Dwyer

Rosaleen Dwyer is the County Heritage Officer at South Dublin County Council – every week she gives us an insight into the natural heritage around us and the beautiful biodiversity of the plants and creatures

Three dates are often indicated as being the start of spring - 1st February, 1st March, or 21st March. 

Each of these dates is based on a different seasonal calendar.

Hazel catkins in flower very early in Tymon Park on 28th December 1

Hazel catkins in flower very early in Tymon Park, on December 28

Traditionally in Ireland, the 1st February announces the arrival of spring. For ancient Celtic people, this marked the end of winter, and they welcomed in the spring by honouring the goddess of growth and fertility with the celebration of the feast of ‘Imbolc’.

Today, we still mark 1st February, St. Brigid’s Day, as the start of spring.

For weather watchers and meteorologists who record monthly temperatures, spring starts on 1st March.

These scientists use changes in temperature patterns to distinguish between the four seasons, marking the start of spring as 1st March.

Very unusually this Cowslip was in bloom in December in Old Bawn 1

Very unusually, this Cowslip was in bloom in December in Old Bawn

The third date for spring coincides with the spring equinox in the astronomical calendar.

The equinox has equal hours of darkness and daylight and is the mid-point between the winter solstice (midwinter) and the summer solstice (midsummer). In 2021, the spring equinox falls on the 21st March, marking the beginning of spring in the astronomical calendar.

Since midwinter, however, the lengthening days have already triggered some birds to sing again at dawn, while iconic heralds of spring like Hazel catkins were already in flower by the end of December.

Nature, it seems, decides her own calendar for spring.   

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