Spring is here

Now our window onto the world is smaller, the view is more precious. Reassuringly nature is following her seasonal rhythm and April is full of new arrivals. In your gardens or local green spaces (on your daily exercise) you’ll see weekly changes as trees come into leaf, spring flowers open and more birds return.

Summer’s canopy is on its way. Starting as a hazy green tinge the familiar leaves of ash, beech, birch and oak are adding their weight to the earlier trees. Among this emerging canopy the first flowers on the elder, hawthorn and rowan will be livening up the green.

Last year, nearly all the trees monitored by Nature’s Calendar* came into leaf two weeks or more earlier than the 2001 benchmark year, but there were some differences. The English (pedunculate) oak was 21 days earlier, while the ash was only seven days earlier. Ash it appears, is less able to react to warmer springs, and this enables the oak to gain a competitive edge.

Here’s a link to watch the oak budburst. https://youtu.be/xJegxaEaPz4

Heart warming flowers

It’s not just overhead you’ll see nature change, as a much wider range of spring flowers start to appear.

One of our most enchanting is the bluebell, and over 49% of the world’s bluebells are in Britain. The dainty flowers symbolise gratitude and constancy and are linked with fairies. Legend has it that if you step into a bluebell ring, you’ll be taken away to live in fairy land, and if you want to call the fairies you just ring the flower like a bell.

For a plant that is poisonous it still has traditional medicinal uses. It’s been used to stop bleeding, cure nightmares, heal snakebites and treat leprosy. We’ve been taking advantage of its sticky sap (which can cause dermatitis) since the Bronze Age as a glue for arrows and to bind books.

Garlic Mustard   Pete Holmes WTPL

Popular as a potherb in Elizabethan England, garlic mustard has over 26 regional names including hedge garlic and jack-by-the-hedge, and you can find it growing in hedgerows and woodland edges. The leaves are high in vitamin A and C and can be used in pesto and salads, while their seeds make a coarse grain mustard. The leaves also feature in a range of traditional cures, they were chewed to treat mouth ulcers,  or made into infusions to ease asthma and eczema, and poultices to relieve itching. This is one of the food plants of the orange-tip butterfly


This month the speckled wood will be fiercely patrolling its territory , while the orange tip, holly blue and green-veined white will be easier to see in parks, woodland edges, and in our gardens

Incredible journeys

A group of intrepid birds are returning for the summer, flying in from as far away as south and sub-Saharan Africa. Two familiar stars among them are the swallow and the house martin.

Male swallows have traveled up to 200 miles a day and averaged 17 -22 miles per hour to get here. When they arrive, they’ll find a territory and sing to attract a female, who’ll be arriving about two weeks later. Before we understood migration, people believed swallows spent the winter in ponds and lakes, where they buried themselves into the mud. Then, as now, seeing your first swallow of the year was lucky, so keep a look out.

Swallows make nearly 1,200 journeys to collect the material for their nests


WTML John Bridges
Swallow   John Bridges / WTML

The social house martin has also made an epic journey. Scientists don’t know where they spend the winter, but the forests around the Congo Basin look likely. Incredible architects, the nests they build under roof eaves, are made up of at least 1,000 beak size pieces of mud! Like the swallows they catch insects in flight, but in one of nature’s acts of co-operation, they feed at different altitudes. Another community act is the way the young from the first brood often help feed the young from the second.

If you can, have a go at building a box for them https://www.sikana.tv/en/diy/family-diy-biodiversity/build-a-swallow-birdhouse

Other birds who’ve made a similar migratory journey are the spotted flycatcher, the whitethroat and the willow warbler. At East Dartmoor NNR these are joined by our special birds the Pied Flycatcher, 20 of which we hope will be returning with geolocators.

Birds will be going into overdrive this month in the endless search for food for their young. Among them are blackbirds, great tits and blue tits. Recorded in 98% of gardens, territorial blue tits only feed their young on certain moth caterpillars, which eat oak, birch and hawthorn leaves. You’ll see them endlessly flying back and forth to collect the 100 caterpillars their young eat each day.

You can find out more about what’s been seen this year on the Nature’s Calendar website.

By Jane Halliday

*Nature’s Calendar is a citizen science project run by the Woodland Trust and the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology to study phenology (the impact of seasonal changes in plants and animals).

Whilst we encourage people to notice these seasonal changes, please do so safely either in your garden or by making the most of your daily exercise. Remember to stay local and follow government guidelines on social distancing – Our woods remains open but only if you:

  • can access it from your home without driving
  • maintain social distancing by staying at least 2 metres away from other people
  • follow the recommended hygiene guidance.

Main photo : web upload / WTML









Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s