Spring 2020: How It Happened

Walking through the trees, in dappled early morning sunlight, through swathes of brilliant blue. Standing rooted to the spot, hearing the first Chiffchaff, Swallow, Cuckoo. Sitting in breezy sunshine, learning to identify Hawkbits, Vetches and Viper’s-Bugloss. These are just some of the highlights of my spring this year, wild and full of life. With each new day, there was a new wild highlight to be had.


Following on from my post last week about my favourite photos from this spring (check out Spring 2020: In Photos), I wanted to continue celebrating the lifeline that has been spring and the natural world for me during lockdown. This week I am looking at how spring unfolded this year in my local area and how it looked now the summer is hitting our shores.

Since 2015 I have been writing down a lot of my observations about spring each year. This means I can now look at spring 2020 in light of how the last few years have actually looked and see if anything interesting comes up. Last year I did this in more detail, so for that check out my post called: How Spring Happened 2017-2019.


So, did a favourite of my mum’s, the Chiffchaff, return by Mother’s Day this year? Did the Oak burst into leaf before the Ash (and so are we in for a splash)? And did the song of the Cuckoo return to my family’s land for another year? As spring now slips into summer, it is time for me to reflect on an extra special spring.


One of the very first trees to start showing signs of life each spring at my home in Dorset, is the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). This year the first buds burst on the 18th of February, which shows a gradual shift forwards over the last few years, being 6 days earlier than last year, and a month earlier than 2018. The first leaf then unfurled on the 10th of March (9 days later than 2019), followed by the first flowers on the 2nd of April (13 days earlier than 2019).

Due to a cold start to spring and a very wet winter, which left the ground cold and waterlogged, Pedunculate (English) Oaks (Quercus robur) were late to make a start, with the first budburst seen on the 2nd of April, 37 days later than 2019. They got going quickly though, with leaves bursting forth by the 8th of April (4 days earlier than 2019) and flowers blooming by the 12th of April (13 days earlier than 2019).

Despite the ground, the trend this year was towards earlier budburst, first leaves and first flowers. Silver Birch (Betula pendula) buds burst on the 15th March, 15 days earlier than 2019; Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) flowered on the 2nd of April, 18 days earlier than 2019; Field Maple (Acer campestre) buds burst on the 5th of April, 13 days earlier than 2019. Grey Willow (Salix cinerea) bucked the trend though, first flowering on the 24th of February, later than last year by 10 days.

This year I added Alder (Alnus glutinosa), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Lime (Tilia x europaea), Wild Cherry (Prunus avium), and Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) to my spring records, but I did not make observations for Sycamore as in previous years. Lime buds burst on the 14th of March, followed by the first leaf on the 3rd of April; Wild Cherry buds burst on the 15th of March, followed by the first leaf 1 month later and first flower 15 days after that; Norway Maple first flowered on the 21st of March; Alder buds burst on the 6th of April; and Beech buds burst on the 10th of April.


Hazel (Corylus avellana) is one species that flowers early in the year, providing a first hint of colour in a wintry landscape. This year I first saw the male catkins on the 8th of January, followed by the female red flowers on the 1st of February (5 days later than 2019). The first hazel leaf then unfurled 43 days later on the 14th of March.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is another species that flowers before it produces its leaves, cloaking hedgerows in drifts of snowy white and accompanying a ‘blackthorn winter’ in early spring. This year the first flowers burst open on the 6th of March, 5 days later than last year, but 24 days earlier than 2018.

After the early flowering species have brought colour to our countryside, Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) is one of the first shrubs to burst into leaf in the hedgerows. This year its buds first burst on the 2nd of March, 5 days later than 2019, followed by the first leaf unfurling 10 days after (28 days earlier than 2019). Their flowers then followed a month after, on the 18th of April, 10 days earlier than 2019.


A similar trend was shown with Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), where budburst took place on the 8th of March, 13 days later than 2019. The first leaf then unfurled 3 days later too, on the 25th of March, and the first flowers bloomed on the 15th of April, 7 days earlier than 2019.

The flowers of Elder (Sambucus nigra) are well known and iconic in our countryside, popular for making elderflower cordial. This year Elder flowered early, with the first flowers being seen at home on the 25th of April (22 days earlier than 2019). Just like Elder, the Dog Rose (Rosa canina) is another late bloomer, which opened its petals for the first time on the 17th of May this year (11 days earlier than last year).


The very first flowers to be seen blooming in the countryside is the dainty snow white Snowdrop (Galanthus spp.). Over the last few years the drooping heads of snowdrops have been flowering earlier each year. This year though, it appeared only 1 day earlier than 2019, welcoming in the year on the 3rd of January.

Snowdrops were soon followed by other iconic spring species, in the form of the first Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) on the 18th of January (44 days earlier than 2019), the first Primrose (Primula vulgaris) on the 27th of January (8 days earlier than 2019), and the first Daffodils (Narcissus spp.); on the 2nd of February (the same day as last year!).

As spring went on, the Snowdrops and sunshine yellows were joined by Wood Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) on the 22nd of March, Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) on the 28th of March, Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum) on the 6th of April, Cuckooflowers (Cardamine pratensis) on the 18th of April, and Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) on the 18th of May, all occurring 6-17 days earlier than last year.

This year I also included three new flowering species to my spring records: Cowslips (Primula veris), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), and Early Purple Orchids (Orchis mascula). I saw the first Cowslip flower on the 20th of March, the first Greater Stitchwort on the 28th of March, and the first Early Purple Orchid on the 6th of April.


This year I was so busy in May and the first half of June that I completely overlooked the flowering of 3 common perennial grass species in my local area: Cock’s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Timothy (Phleum pratense), and Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus). I did though catch Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) flowering, which first occurred on the 22nd of April (23 days earlier than 2019).



With the start of every new year, I begin to keep my eye out for the start of the Rooks (Corvus frugilegus) nesting in the bare and skeletal forms of large oak trees near my home. This year they kept me waiting awhile though, with the first signs of nest building appearing on the 15th of February, 17 days later than 2019.

Unlike the start of the Rooks nesting though, the start of male Song Thrushes (Turdus philomelos) singing crept even earlier than last spring. This was 13 days earlier in fact, with me hearing my first on the 15th of December in 2019! This was not reflected by Blackbirds (Turdus merula) though, as I heard my first male singing on the 23rd of February, 17 days later than 2019.

One of my favourite first signs that spring has begun has to be the return of the Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita). This year they returned to my home in Dorset on the 1st of March, 17 days earlier than 2019.


The glorious return of the Chiffchaffs were then eagerly followed by the first Swallow (Hirundo rustica) on the 5th of April (1 day later than 2019), the first House Martin (Delichon urbicum) on the 12th of April (12 days earlier than 2019), the first Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) on the 22nd of April (11 days later than 2018), and the first Swift (Apus apus) on the 6th of May (19 days earlier than 2018). A Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) did make its exciting return to my family’s land too, which I heard for the first time on the 28th of April (24 days earlier than last year).



This year the majority of the insects I observed, emerged later than they did last year in 2019. I saw my first Brimstone Butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) on the 24th of March, my first Peacock Butterfly (Aglais io) on the 4th of April, my first Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Aglais urticae) on the 5th of April, my first Orange-Tip Butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) on the 13th of April, my first Red-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) on the 1st of May, and my first queen Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) on the 7th of May, with all ranging anywhere between 4 and 37 days later in date than last year.

The ones that did not follow this pattern though, were the Speckled Wood Butterfly (Pararge aegeria) first seen on the same day as last year on the 22nd of April, and the Red Admiral Butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) that was first seen 29 days earlier on the 22nd of April. This year I also added Buff-Tailed Bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) to my observations, seeing the first at home on the 13th of March.


This Year

This year it has definitely been an interesting and joyful experience to watch how spring unfolded. It started with early signs during the winter, before arriving with a blaze of glory in March.


This last winter was a warm, wet and windy one, which left the ground cold and waterlogged for quite a while into spring. A number of species such as Oak trees struggled with this, but for many it did not stop them from emerging on time or earlier, such as snowdrops and field maples. This variation continued with bird species, some arriving and beginning breeding earlier and some later. For a lot of the insect species though, they emerged late, which will have had a lot to do with the less than ideal weather conditions this spring, for example frosts in April. Thus, how spring is changing year-to-year definitely has a lot to do with changing weather conditions.

So as spring fades to summer heat, I can now say that the Chiffchaff made its return to the British Isles by Mother’s Day, the Oak burst into leaf before the Ash (and so we are in for a splash!), and a Cuckoo made its return to my home. It has definitely been a great spring this year!

Spring 2020: In Photos

As the world was thrown into disarray with the full force of a pandemic, our daily lives were hit by lockdown, slowing and grounding to a halt. For the natural world outside our windows though, spring was just beginning, with days warming, buds bursting, and migrants making their return. Even when our own lives were being disrupted, the natural world was carrying on.


For me, spring has been a real lifeline this year. With the natural world bursting with life, I was able to draw real strength from the return of the swallows, the flowering of the bluebells and the trees becoming cloaked in delicate new leaves. Every moment I could spend out in nature gave me the strength to continue as if nothing had changed, cherishing every moment for what it was. For this I am grateful, and I really appreciate that I am lucky to have the beautiful Dorset countryside right on my doorstep.

As spring begins to make its exit, I wanted to take some moments to reflect on a time that has taught me a lot, brought me some real magic through the natural world, and will be remembered for as many good memories as those eclipsed by Covid-19. To begin with, here are a selection of my favourite photos from this spring. They range from spring wonderment to heart-warming moments, that all mean something to me.

Spring 2020 in photos

1) Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly – The photo featured above was taken only last week, and reminds me of how valuable the time I spend expanding my knowledge of nature really is, including the identification of butterflies and flowers. I found this Small Tortoiseshell butterfly on a 10m long chalk mound that my parents have created for wildlife within our farmland, and it really is coming into its own this year!


2) Bluebell & Spider – When the bluebells are flowering, it has to be one of my most favourite times of the year. As the woodland floor transforms to a carpet of blue purple, I feel at my happiest and enjoy noticing new details each year, such as the spider hunting on these drooping bells.

2) 20_03_20_Farm_Goldfinch_2

3) Goldfinch – I love the simplicity of this photo of a Goldfinch taken back in March. The bright colours of the bird vividly stand out from the swelling buds and bare twigs of the hazel in this hedgerow. It was enough to brighten a moment on a decidedly chilly spring day.


4) Stitchwort – Every flower is unique and different in its own way. With Greater Stitchwort, every flower stands out like a small white star, carpeting verges, hedgerows and woodlands alike.


5) Dandelion Seeds – Now as an adult I still hold on to the child-like curiosity that a dandelion invokes. With hundreds of parachuting seeds waiting to fly, this dandelion creates a beautiful fluffy silhouette in the spring sunshine.


6) Lleyn Lamb – This photo is as it seems, a photo of a sleepy newborn lamb, born earlier this year. I am proud to say that I come from a farming background in the heart of Dorset. It has been this that has provided me with a spectacular backdrop to learn about the natural world around me, given me the knowledge and experiences to be able to make informed decisions about how I live my life, and given me an understanding of the important relationship between the environment and modern agriculture.


7) Wild Garlic & Insect – I love to notice the details in nature and get down to the level of the ‘small things’. This may be noticing the curl of an unfurling fern, the patterns on the petals of a tiny flower, or the jewel-like colours of an insect exploring a cluster of star-shaped wild garlic flowers.


8) Sunrise – One of the best times of day has usually come and gone by the time most people have woken up in the morning. A sunrise is a golden time though to get out, listen to the birds singing and watch as the world wakes up around you. There is nothing like it!


9) Dark Rabbit – One of my more unusual sightings this year has to be this rabbit, that has notably darker fur compared to the usual European rabbit. It was small in size, and though showing wild instincts, it was slightly less fearful of us humans. Everyday it could be found sunning itself in a small open area within vegetation situated behind our farm buildings.

8) 16_04_20_Horseshoe_Woods_Flower_Moschatel_8

10) Moschatel – Every year I try and learn one new species of flowering plant that can be found in our woodlands and surrounding countryside. This year it was the turn of Moschatel. An often overlooked flower due to its greenish colour, Moschatel is also known as Townhall Clock, due to its flowers having 5 faces that make it look like a cube or townhall clock in shape.


11) Chiffchaff – One of my highlights of spring every year is the return of the Chiffchaff. When I hear this bird sing for the first time each year, I feel like spring has truly arrived, so I am particularly saddened when their singing finally falls silent as autumn grips the landscape.


12) Feather – This photo is a good example of the beauty of detail. It is simple, but a spot of light highlights the real elegance of this contour feather, now left to lay amongst the vegetation.


13) Aberdeen Angus Calf – This inquisitive and interestingly marked calf is another photo that connects with my farming roots. Spring is synonymous with new life, from on the farm to the wider countryside, and this little one was just one of many, precious and to be celebrated.


14) Spider & Hart’s-Tongue Fern – Some days I walk along in my own world and the wildlife around me merges into one. Other days the world becomes bigger though and I see every detail pop out at me, such as with this spider making its home on a Hart’s-Tongue fern.


15) Fox Cub – As people who follow my blog or social media will already know, this spring I have had fun yet again using my camera trap on my family’s land. This has to be one of my favourite photos from this year! It was a totally unexpected surprise when this fox cub turned up on my camera trap.


16) Vole Bones – With the return of breeding barn owls to my family’s farm, I had some fun one afternoon dissecting the pellets left by these owls. It is definitely a very rewarding feeling when you are then able to identify the species the bones you find come from. Here I believe this mandible to be from a bank vole.


17) Field Rose – I have always loved taking photos of flowers and capturing their small details. Here a field rose, you can clearly see the reproductive organs from the stamens to the stigma.

How to… Help The Planet One Small Step At A Time

Currently there are approximately 7.8 billion people living on this planet, and so it is not surprising that humans have had a significant influence on the environment. For example, 1.76 planets a year are now needed to meet resource and waste absorption demands. Over time, this has heavily impacted our natural world, from massive deforestation and loss of species to large scale pollution and global warming.

Though it can feel like a losing battle, there is still time for us to try and make a difference. By making small and often easy changes within our own lives, then this could be the start to making a big difference on a larger scale. For this to work, to preserve our planet for future generations, we all need to do our bit now.

To help make this seem a little less daunting, I wanted to put together some examples of small things that I have changed in my own day-to-day life or I am now inspired to do. This could be thinking about where your food comes from, giving your old clothes new lives or even volunteering your time for the environment. It’s your life, your world and your choice, but reducing your footprint on this planet is important and a rewarding thing to do now moving forward.

This does not mean you need to do all the things I suggest, but why not see what you can do to do your bit! By making a positive change, you could reduce waste, save money and help the planet. So be active, think globally and act locally!

Food and Drink

Food and drink is an important part of all of our lives. Vital for our survival, it has a major influence on our society and more significantly, the environment. Therefore, your choices can make a real difference to our planet, which could include considering what you are eating and where your food actually comes from.

Food & Drink


There are lots of small things you can change in your own home that can reduce your footprint. Often involving the reduction of energy and water usage, some changes will even save you some money in the long run.



Getting from a to b is an essential part of many people’s lives in today’s world, so these choices can have a significant impact on the environment. By being smart with the choices you make each time you travel, in the long run it could add up to making a big difference, such as to pollution and resource usage.


Reduce, reuse and recycle

One of the easiest ways to try and help the planet is to reduce how much waste comes out of your own home. This could either be by disposing of items properly or more importantly by thinking before you buy.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

General Life

As well as making small changes in your own home and on the move, it is important to be aware of the environment in general. By being informed about what is going on in the world, by being active in what you do, and just by being connected, this can make the greatest difference of all

General Life

All photos and drawings are my own

How to… Make Your Own Bee Hotel

As the planet continues to experience the loss of plants and animals on an unprecedented scale, it is now increasingly important that we all try and do our bit for nature. Though it can be disheartening and tough to know what to do sometimes, making one small step could be a real start to making a difference. For example, one easy thing you could do, is to provide a home for wildlife, such as a wildflower area, pond, or even a bee hotel.

The increasingly popular bee hotel is a home that is made for solitary bees, which include Leafcutter and Mason bees, and are those that live on their own rather than in colonies, make up about 90% of UK bee species, and are very important pollinators. With the loss of 97% of wildflower meadows since the Second World War, along with other factors such as pesticides and intensive farming practices, solitary bees are now heavily under threat, with less suitable habitat currently available to them.

One way we can help, is to produce nesting sites in the form of bee hotels. These structures are made up of a frame filled with tubes mimicking the natural cavities solitary bees use to nest in, which are typically tunnels in dead wood or hard soil. From spring to summer, different species will build inside these tubes, lay their eggs, add a supply of nectar and pollen, and block up the entrance. The eggs will then hatch, feed, and pupate, before emerging the following spring.

Though spring is the best time to make and put up a bee hotel, you can make one anytime you wish. There are also no set rules on how to make or use a bee hotel, as they are a relatively new phenomenon and advice on them is changing all the time. For now though, here’s some guidance I can give to help you make your very own bee hotel. They can take some time to make, but are very rewarding, and are also a great activity to currently do as part of your 30 Days Wild challenge!

Cherry Blossom

How to make a bee hotelWooden Planks

Examples of considerations include:

  • Simple or aesthetically pleasing and complex design?
  • Vertical or horizontal?
  • Sloped or flat, overhanging roof?
  • For your garden or a small space e.g. a window sill?
  • Use only recycled and reclaimed resources?

Always think of the bees when making your decisions though!

What you need:

  • Offcuts of planks of untreated wood, about 1.5cm thick
  • Tape measure and pencilSaw
  • Saw
  • Hammer and nails
  • Sand paper
  • Tubes varying in size from about 2-12mm, with a length of at least 10mm, though ideally about 16mm. For example: bamboo canes, hollow plant stems such as sunflower stems, or bespoke bee tubes
  • Chunks of untreated hardwood or Hammerlogs
  • Drill
  • Bits to hang up the bee hotel e.g. T bracket, screws, screw driver, Rawlplug wall plugs

T Bracket








Step by step guide:

  1. Decide on your bee hotel design. Bear in mind, that smaller is better to be able to easily move the bee hotel around and to encourage bees to nest at lower densities
  2. Use a tape measure and pencil to mark out the pieces of wood you need; the most simple designs have 5 pieces. Then use a saw to cut your wood, and sand paper to sand down any rough or uneven edges

  3. Use a hammer and as many nails as you need, to create the frame of your bee hotel
  4. Cut your chosen tubes to the right length to fit into the frame of your bee hotel, and sand paper off any rough ends. By using several different sizes of tubes, you increase the chance of attracting a wider range of bee species, due to variation in their preference for nest tunnel size. You can also drill holes into chunks of untreated hardwood or logs to create some more variety in your bee hotel
  5. Carefully build up your frame with your tubes and drilled wood, until it is filled. I suggest lying your bee hotel on a tilted surface to make this easier to do

  6. Decide on a suitable location for your bee hotel. It is important to place it in full sunlight, for example facing south or south-east, at least 1 metre above the ground, and not covered by vegetation
  7. Hang your bee hotel up. For mine I used a t bracket, screws, screw driver, drill and rawlplug wall plugs to attach it to the south side of my house
  8. Then wait for the bees to come to you!


  • The smaller the bee hotel is, the more effective it will be!
  • Create an overhang to give the bee hotel tubes some better protection from the rain
  • Every autumn take down your bee hotel and store it in a cool and dry location, to reduce risks such as of fungal infections
  • For best results, clean the bee hotel out every year, including removing, cleaning and preparing any pupae for release the following year

The bee hotel I made is far from perfect, but I hope it gives you some inspiration to help make yourself an even better bee hotel!