Monday 20 January 2020

New Year Plant Hunt 2020: analysis of results

New Year Plant Hunters in
Glengarriff, West Cork
Image: C. Heardman 
The analysis of BSBI's ninth New Year Plant Hunt has now been published and is available to download here. The analysis includes a summary and there's also a press release here which went out this morning to all our media contacts. 

1,714 people participated in the Hunt between 1st and 4th January, either individually, with family and friends or on group hunts, often organised by local botanical recording groups. That's an increase of 16% compared to last year. 20 people (mainly in northern/ upland areas) also contributed to our understanding of what was flowering where by emailing us locations of where they had hunted but found nothing in bloom. Many people also made casual observations on social media but didn’t email us or upload their records so we haven’t included them in our totals. 

We'd like to thank all of you who took part, a fantastic effort! You braved the cold and went out hunting from Shetland to Guernsey, from Donegal to Anglesey to Norfolk, from west Cork to Pembrokeshire to London to the Kent coast. 

Plant hunters out in London
on New Year's Day
Image: Jo Wright
You submitted a grand total of 778 lists comprising 14,724 records of 615 species in bloom across Britain and Ireland.

All your records were checked and analysed by Dr Kevin Walker, BSBI's Head of Science. Here are some of his key findings:
  • 53% of the records were of species which normally flower after midsummer and had managed to carry on flowering. These include ‘Autumn Stragglers’ such as Yarrow, Ragwort and Hogweed. This figure is slightly lower than last year's 58% - perhaps as a result of all the wet weather many of us experienced last autumn? 
  • Only 24% were ‘Springtime Specialists’ like Primrose and Lesser Celandine, so there is no indication of an early spring. This proportion is roughly similar to previous years. 
  • 23% of the records submitted were of species we might reasonably expect to flower at New Year, or species which we cannot easily be categorised as either ‘early’ or ‘late’. These include typical ‘All Year Rounders’ such as Shepherd’s-purse as well as ‘Winter Specialists’ such as Winter Heliotrope. Again, this proportion is roughly similar to previous years.
  • The top five species were Daisy, Groundsel, Dandelion, Annual Meadow-grass, and Common Chickweed – identical to last year’s list and all (native) plants we would expect to be flowering at this time of year.
  • 36% of species recorded were non-natives. This includes plants from warmer climates that have escaped from gardens or cultivation, become naturalised in the wild and were able to extend their flowering into the winter months.

Examining pavement plants in Heaton during the
North-east New Year Plant Hunt-Off
Image: James Common
As in previous years, urban areas tended to have more non-native species in flower than rural areas, as there are more sheltered and disturbed places with warm microclimates where alien plants can thrive. The milder south and west of Britain and Ireland had the highest numbers of species in flower – 115 in Swanage – a similar number to 2019 but nowhere near the 2016 top total of 162 species recorded in Berkshire by Prof Mick Crawley. 

Strawberry tree blooming in Killarney
Image: Jessica Hamilton
Kevin compared the results with meteorological data and said “2020 appears to have been an average year in terms of winter flowering in comparison to previous years. New Year Plant Hunt data from the past six years shows that there were fewer species in flower this year than in 2015, 2016 and 2019 but more than in 2017 and 2018. The reason for this seems clear – temperatures in the two months preceding this year’s Hunt were only a degree above average compared to 2015, 2016 and 2019, when the combined temperature anomalies were much higher. This was largely due to the cold and wet conditions experienced across much of the country in late 2019, especially in November when the Midlands and Northern England experienced widespread flooding”.

If you'd like to compare this year's results with those of previous years, please use the preceding links to access data from 2017-9 and to compare Kevin's analyses for each year, please visit our New Year Plant Hunt archive page.

BSBI President Lynne Farrell and friend
hunting in the Lake District
Image courtesy of L. Farrell
In conclusion, Kevin said “We can’t yet prove that more species are flowering in mid-winter nowadays, rather than in the past, but NYPH has shown that in milder winters, more plants flower because of warmer temperatures and fewer frosts. We don’t yet know what the implications of this are for plants and associated insects - but what we do know is that weather patterns are changing and that plants are responding”.

Two guest blogposts coming soon in response to Kevin's comment: one about pollinators in winter - what impact might changes in flowering times have on our pollinators? And one about a citizen science project run by colleagues which aims to help scientists track the effects of weather on our wildlife. Watch this space and thanks again to everyone who has helped us build up a clearer picture of which plants are blooming in midwinter!


  1. Interesting to read the general conclusion, and it is clear that it can only be a general conclusion. Autumn and winter temperatures here in the Welsh Marches have been significantly milder than recently (although very wet)- we have had very few frosts and almost no snow. My species count was 30% up on 2018 (still only 12 species). The extremely mild conditions will presumably explain why Ulex gallii was still flowering, although there was no sign of increased early flowering of spring species.

  2. Whoops- I meant to compare with 2019, not 2018.


Please leave a comment!