BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
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Climate & Weather

Until the advent of modern day technology, every farmer all over the world would tell you that what he can grow and how it will grow and yield to support the community, depends on the climate as this governs the landscape and the weather. Many people who have attended a lecture or seminar given by Peter Reynolds will recall his catchphrase:


All research sites under the control of Butser Ancient Farm had a weather station. Those on Butser Hill and Bascomb were actually part of the national grid of stations reporting weather information. The data was collected each morning at 09.00 GMT.

The need for such a station is paramount in establishing the impact of weather, in all its aspects, on the performance of cereals and vegetables in crop trials, the survival of buildings and their need for maintenance and the response of all the processes involved in the changes occurring in the experimental earthworks.

For the purpose of detailing the impact of weather on the outcome of experiments, particularly crop yield experiments, it is crucial to appreciate that it is essential to experiment for a lengthy period, sufficient to incorporate the likely long-run effects of the "weather cycle", during which both the extremes of weather and "runs" of wet or dry periods (say) will be likely to occur. By way of example from another area, the Environment Agency designs its schemes on the basis of a 20 year "return period". The Butser principle has been to seek to run trials on the same site for periods approaching this, although circumstances beyond the Director's control have so far prevented this being completely achieved. Because work has been displaced from some sites at different times, the comparisons between results for different sites with different soils and different micro-climates are not fully contemporaneous. This in no way invalidates the comparison, because they are in general for extensive intervals.

It is necessary to differentiate between climate and weather. Climate is the prevailing pattern of rain, sun, cloud, temperature or whatever. Climates may be hotter or colder, drier or wetter, there may be rainy seasons interspersed with arid periods and so on, each one of which affects the length of the growing season and the type of plants adapted to thrive. Weather, on the other hand, may be defined as the "level" of each of these climatic factors at any given place and time. It is represented by the prevailing values for temperature, rain, wind etc., which set the pattern of a given climate.

The impact of weather on human survival in even the recent past should not be underestimated. Until adequate storage practices were devised, especially for staples, food supplies were essentially seasonal. One of the more significant historic events, known to most of us, is the mass migration of Irish people, following collapse of the potato harvest, where the ravages of blight were brought about by the prevailing weather.

Ultimately, it is the extremes of weather, rather than the routine, that dictate survivability. Depending on past harvests and the efficiency of storage practices (which may just as well be above ground granaries as silos, though the former need extraneous raw materials for construction and are more prone to rodent attack), then as few as two years of failed harvests can cause major starvation. There is no need for the seven years of 'biblical' famine! Without exception, the deification of weather and fertility is and has been a world-wide phenomenon.

The key parameters recorded at Bascomb are air temperature (max./min.), grass temperature, soil temperature (at soil surface level and 50mm and 100mm depth) and rainfall using British Standard equipment. Wind speed and direction are also measured, along with the average run of the wind as given by an anemometer.

It is not appreciated by everyone that plant growth, through root development, as well as germination is dictated by soil temperature rather than air temperature, whereas our own response is certainly to air temperature in the first instance!

In general it has been found that only the extremes of wind have much of an effect on the structures, including fences and little or no effect has been found on the earthworks.

Students wishing to get a better and more balanced insight into long term weather patterns are recommended to read Burroughs (1992/1994).

Burroughs, William James "Weather Cycles: Real or Imaginery?" Cambridge University Press 1992
(First paperback edition 1994).