Exploring With My Camera Trap Spring 2021

After I click open the file on my camera trap, I press next through a male pheasant strutting his stuff and a female roe deer passing through, until a photo makes me stop. There towards the back of the shot are two small brown shapes. I move through the rest of the photos as day passes into night, and watch as these two rough and tumble through the photos, exploring, playing and watching their wild neighbours go past, ending with one sitting stock still in front of the camera. My camera trap had successfully found my first litter of fox cubs of the year!

The last few years I have become known for my exploration of my family’s farm in Dorset using a camera trap. My camera trap allows me to delve into the lives of my wild neighbours without intrusion or disturbance of their natural behaviour, and to use my photos to inspire others to open their eyes and be motivated to conserve our local wildlife. It is always a rollercoaster of emotions, never knowing what my camera trap might find, but in the end it is a very rewarding experience. If you are interested in getting your own camera trap or knowing how to make the most of your own, check out my ‘How to… Use and Make the Most of a Camera Trap’ guide for some more information.

My camera trap has been a very useful tool for me over the last few years, so since 2019 I have spent my spring seasons moving my camera trap around different sites across 250 acres of farmland, taking in different species and behaviour. In 2019, I saw 12 species of birds and mammals, including families of badgers and a family of three fox cubs. In 2020, my camera trapping got even more interesting, with badger cubs, a couple of litters of fox cubs, and lots of roe deer sightings. The most enjoyable shots are always the most unexpected though, despite from time to time getting a photo bomber or two, for example in the form of our farm cat!

This spring I have been out and about once again on the farm with my camera trap. This year I selected six different sites across our land, with the hope of capturing some of the normal sights, along with some new ones. As the spring has now come to an end, activity has dropped across these sites, and thus it is time to see how spring has been captured by my camera trap this year.

Camera Trapping Spring 2021

Quarry Field Badger Sett

My first camera trapping site this year was an active badger sett to the east of my family’s land. It sits between a silage field and a maize field in a wide and thick hedgerow, and is a great crossroads for animals passing through. I have used this site in previous years for camera trapping, with varying success, such as last year’s highlights of badger cubs and a lively, lone fox cub.

This year I set my camera trap up at the sett for a week (3rd-10th April), moving the position and angle every other day to increase my chances of capturing wildlife. It paid off as I had a successful first week, with rabbits, roe deer, badgers, and a fox.

Due to seeing a lone fox cub at this site last year, the presence of an adult fox at the sett once again led me to return with my camera trap seven weeks later for another week (27th May-1st June). My hunch paid off as my camera trap returned photos of two fox cubs playing, living alongside a badger family, and being fed by a parent.

Gill Hill Copse

For my next site, I set my camera trap up within a copse surrounded by a cow grazing field west of the Quarry Field badger sett. During early spring this is a great site to capture wildlife moving through the landscape as the copse is a great stopping place. I have used this site before, and last year I saw species, such as roe deer and foxes.

This year I used my camera in the copse for just one week (11th-18th April), but moved its position within the copse every couple of days. I captured photos of a territorial male pheasant, an adult badger, a grey squirrel, an adult fox, and a rather comical sequence of photos of two female roe deer being spied on by a hiding male. As vegetation in the copse grows up and spring progresses, camera trapping success decreases at this site, but it was nice to see some life early on this spring.

Dorset County Council Wood

For my third site, I set my camera trap within a small, young wood that can be found at the centre of my family’s land, bordered by a road and a meadow. I have used this wood before, with some positive sightings in 2019 of foxes and badgers passing through.

This year I tried the wood again for a couple of days (19th-24th April), with some overall disappointing results. A male pheasant and magpie were seen, with an adult fox being seen twice, but overall the wood was quiet, reflecting a lack of diversity evident in this unmanaged woodland. I did not return to the wood again during this spring as a result.

Badger Field Sett

For my fourth camera trapping site, I returned to an active badger sett towards the centre of my family’s land. The sett is bordered by grazing land on both sides, and is set within a wide, thick hedge, extending out into the field on its east side. Last year I used my camera trap to look within the sett and to the sett entrances on either side, and saw adult badgers, badger cubs, and an adult fox. This was unsurprising as the sett is a thriving mixed site for badgers, foxes and rabbits alike.

This year I positioned my camera trap first on the western side of the sett (25th-27th April), before positioning it directly within the area above the sett (4th-7th May). Pointing my camera trap at the animal track running along the side of the sett, I captured an adult badger, adult fox, and my first hare! Above the sett, my camera trap was more active, capturing lots of badger activity, woodpigeons, blackbirds, and red-legged partridges, and a surprising sighting of a field vole climbing vegetation. It was a lovely sequence of photos!

Badger Alley

For my fifth site, I chose to return to one of my favourite locations, the familiarly known Badger Alley. Badger Alley is an enclosed footpath that has dug out animal holes along half of its length, split into two old badger setts. In 2019 this was a super site for seeing badgers wondering its length, but last year it was obvious that wildlife numbers had declined, badgers in particular.

This year I spent two stints setting up my camera trap along Badger Alley. Firstly, I spent five days with my camera trap trained on the non-active lower sett, changing the camera’s position after two days (10th-14th May). Amongst photos of a female roe deer and a displaying male pheasant, I got lots of really lovely photos of two fox cubs playing and exploring their world.

I then returned to Badger Alley in June, moving my camera from the non-active lower sett (5th-11th June) to the sett further up (11th-14th June). By now my camera trap found that the family of foxes had moved on, with only the female and new male roe deer appearing at the lower sett. What was really sad, was finding that Badger Alley has now been fully abandoned by badgers, with the higher sett now being home to just rabbits. A slightly disappointing end to my camera trap’s time at Badger Alley!

Monkwood

To finish camera trapping during the spring season, I took a bet on a site where there was a possibility of finding another litter of fox cubs. This site was a hedge in the middle of cow grazing land, where I had not previously camera trapped before. I chose to set my camera trap up on a fence post pointing along the hedgeline where I had found holes into the hedge, and left my camera for a couple of days (14th-16th June).

On retrieving my camera trap, I was excited to find that my instincts had been right and my camera trap had shot photos of two fox cubs and an adult. It was a lovely end to my spring camera trapping season!

My 30 Days Wild 2021: A Wild Month

June has been one of those months that has passed by in the blink of an eye. Rainy days quickly moved into scorching heat and then back to rain, framing the last of spring’s events. Every day I have tried to be outside as much as possible, with my happy place being out in nature. From work to down time, my life and hobbies revolve around the wild and the natural world around me. This is why I love to share my experiences with others, to excite, inspire, and instill, and to help motivate people to protect and conserve what is left of our natural world.

It is not surprising then that I am always up for a wild challenge. Last year this took the form of the Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild, an annual nature challenge that has now run for 6 years, with more than a million people taking part last year. This challenge aims to bring people closer to nature whilst making a positive difference for wildlife and its conservation. All you have to do is complete one ‘Random Act of Wildness’ each day for the whole of June. It is that simple!

Last year I really enjoyed participating in 30 Days Wild, with the challenge enriching my days, helping me to relax, and allowing me to develop a deeper connection with the natural world around me. It also gave me an added focus on days that were busy and stressful, keeping me centred and moving forward. My Random Acts of Wildness ranged from making bird food and picking fruit, to dissecting barn owl pellets and learning my chalkland wildflower species. So it was an easy decision this year to take part once again.

Here’s what I got up to during 30 Days Wild 2021:

Day 1: Tuesday 1st (Work)

For the start of my 30 Days Wild, I began strong.

After failing to find an active kestrel nest last year, I finally found the natural nest I had been hoping for! I also checked and moved my camera trap after a week out at a badger sett, discovering my second family of foxes of this year, with it being by far my best camera trapping season yet!

Day 2: Wednesday 2nd (Day Off)

I love an adventure, and so today I ventured out into my local area in the rain to take in as many different habitats and species as possible, with the highlight being 4 red kites sitting in a tree on my family’s land. After drying off and allowing the rain to pass, that afternoon I headed back outside, this time to test my brand new macro lens and get stuck in to the world of the small.

Day 3: Thursday 3rd (Day Off)

For my second day off, I made the most of free time and went for a long ride with a friend, the highlight being riding through chalk grasslands, embellished with colourful flowers and melodious birds. Being on horseback in this way allows me to take in a range of wildlife in a short period of time and also give me great up-close views.

Day 4: Friday 4th (Work)

For spring, my wildlife blog has been back up and running, and every Friday has been a Wild Friday. For this week, my new post was all about the spring bluebells, which are one of my favourite parts of spring each year. Check it out on my blog now!

Day 5: Saturday 5th (Work)

After a long day at work, I still had energy to work on some of my nature projects. This included putting my dad together a list of all the bird species seen on my family’s land in the last year (65!), and learning how to fill in nest records for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme, beginning with a blackbird’s, kestrel’s, and barn owl’s nest.

Day 6: Sunday 6th (Work)

A week ago I cleared a small wildlife area of docks and sowed some homemade wildlife mixes, so this evening after work I headed over to the area to do some management and to water the seeds. I then headed home to finish off my day with Thursday’s and Friday’s missed episodes of Springwatch.

Day 7: Monday 7th (Work)

After catching my neice’s cold, today I felt particularly under the weather. It was a perfect way then to spend my evening curled up in an armchair reading some lovely nature blogs to cheer myself up before an early night.

Day 8: Tuesday 8th (Work)

My happy place is out in nature, and so I have been enjoying working at the moment on my family’s farm in Dorset, and keeping an open mind to what I might discover during day-to-day life. Today I had everything from peacock butterflies and Lackey moth caterpillars, to yellowhammers singing and brown hares grazing within 10 metres of me!

Day 9: Wednesday 9th (Day Off)

I began my first of two days by heading to my bird ringing trainer’s private nature reserve to help with summer maintenance work, before returning home to check the kestrel nest and to head round to my next door neighbour’s to look for active swallow nests (4 so far!).

Day 10: Thursday 10th (Day Off)

For my second day off, I had a lovely relaxing hack with Marsha exploring a new route near my home, and spent time watching and counting the birds visiting the feeders in my garden. From pheasants and house sparrows to goldfinches and greenfinches, all species and their abundance are recorded in my garden and sent off at the end of the week to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch scheme.

Day 11: Friday 11th (Work)

Today after work I spent time expanding my wildlife knowledge through reading the BTO’s Lifecycle magazine and BBC Wildlife magazine, and watching the very last episode of 2021’s Springwatch.

Day 12: Saturday 12th (Work)

Today I used my lunch break to take photos of the bees buzzing around the poached egg flowers in my family’s garden using my brand new macro lens (very exciting!). My evening was then spent relaxing with my family in my brother and sister-in-law’s garden for a lovely family bbq in the setting sun.

Day 13: Sunday 13th (Work)

Last year I completed a self-set challenge to find an example of wildlife for every letter of the alphabet during just 1 day. Today I decided to have a go once again, but with the added challenge of finding different examples compared to last year. It was tough, but I did it!

Day 14: Monday 14th (Work)

After a long day at work, I spent some time exploring Twitter’s wildlife community, visiting some of my favourite and some new pages. Why not check them out yourself to find out what they have been getting up to?

Day 15: Tuesday 15th (Work)

After work, I had a really lovely evening checking my family’s barn owl nest box and kestrel tree nest with fully licensed members of my ringing group. We were excited to find the adult female barn owl brooding 4 young and the adult female kestrel feeding 3 two week old chicks!

Day 16: Wednesday 16th (Day Off)

To finish off a jam packed day off, I went for a lovely evening walk that began with just me and my camera and ended with me also carrying my camera trap and family’s farm cat. He likes to have a walk, but he gets tired too easily!

Day 17: Thursday 17th (Day Off)

Around my usual horse riding today, I kept myself busy with my wildlife photography, using my camera, taking photos off of memory cards, organising photos, and sorting my camera trap.

Day 18: Friday 18th (Work)

Today was another ‘Wild Friday‘ on my blog meaning a brand new blog post went up all about how spring 2021 unfurled. A little scientific, a little anecdotal, and a little visual-based, it was an enjoyable piece to write.

Day 19: Saturday 19th (Work)

Today I have been very busy looking after my parents’ farm whilst they are away. It has been a great opportunity to take in all that the farm has to offer and to appreciate all the work my parents have done and are doing for wildlife on the farm, from digging ponds to planting trees.

For more information check out my 2020 blog post called ‘Giving Nature a Home on the Farm’.

Day 20: Sunday 20th (Work)

After a busy few days looking after the farm, this afternoon I took some time to relax with my family, and be a proud aunt seeing how my very intelligent neice is learning more and more about wildlife. To top off my day, I took part in the Wildlife Trusts Big Wild Quiz, getting a respectable 28 out of 35.

Day 21: Monday 21st (Work)

Nature has a strong influence on british culture, influencing everything from music to art and literature. Nature is also a great inspiration for my own creativity, for example encouraging me to improve my own ability to draw and sketch, and to use my drawings to illustrate my wild ‘How to’ guides.

Day 22: Tuesday 22nd (Work)

After a busy day at work, I decided that for today’s Random Act of Wildness I would make a valuable donation to Dorset Wildlife Trust. Any donation that can be made is important for such organisations to be able to do their conservation work, such as rewilding and habitat management.

Day 23: Wednesday 23rd (Day Off)

Around a lovely much needed catch up with and old friend, I spent my day off countryside walking, checking swallow nests, and baking. I followed suit of last year’s baking, and kept it simple with yummy sponge cakes with wild decorations, in the form of flowers, butterflies and leaves. A lot of fun!

Day 24: Thursday 24th (Day Off)

Today I spent my day checking barn owl nest boxes with Dorset County Council and Alan who I ring with at Conservation Action. Such experiences always feel like a privilege to me and it was a great training experience, topped off with ringing 3 out of 4 of my swallow nests.

Day 25: Friday 25th (Work)

Today was Wild Friday on my blog, with this week’s post being all about my how spring looked for me personally, featuring 16 of my favourite photos from the season. They are either aesthetically pleasing, a great memory, or just bring me joy. Check it out now!

Day 26: Saturday 26th (Work)

Today on a much needed afternoon off, activities included exploring a road verge in my local area to ID plants with my mum (24 wildflower species), and picking elderflower heads to make this year’s elderflower cordial.

Day 27: Sunday 27th (Work)

For the last 2 years I have been enjoying training as a bird ringer, and have become a member of my trainer’s conservation group called Conservation Action. We are based in Dorset and the South West and aim to protect, restore and preserve biodiversity, promote conservation, and to research and monitor the state of nature.

For more information, check out our website at www.conservationactionuk.org or our Twitter and Instagram pages.

Day 28: Monday 28th (Work)

Though my happy place is being outside in all weathers, today was one of those days when I got a bit too wet and then a bit too sweaty. The day was still very productive, so I felt content at the end of the day to head home and curl up with my current wild book: Gavin Thurston’s ‘Journeys into the Wild: Secret Life of a Cameraman’.

Day 29: Tuesday 29th (Work)

Today I accidentally found a bird’s nest at waist height in a hedge on my family’s farm, spent a lovely half hour out in my garden, the flowers thick with bumblebees, and ringed my final of first brood swallow nest.

Day 30: Wednesday 30th (Day Off)

Today I had a glorious last day of 30 Days Wild. I had a lovely early morning walk with my mum, took photos of the many butterflies on the farm at the moment, and finished the day checking barn owl boxes with my bird ringing training as the sun set

A lovely, active and wild month spent in some of the best ways possible!

Spring in Photos 2021

Last year spring was my lifeline, as we experienced the world around us being thrown into disarray. This year spring was instead turned on its head, with changing weather patterns making it unpredictable and different from what we would usually expect at this time of year. A hot and stormy March, cold April, and wet May made nature emerge later, with spring events taking longer to arrive, and being anywhere up to 60 days late.

Still this year’s spring has been magnificent. Vibrant and colourful, it had much to be celebrated. My family’s farm in Dorset became full of new life, from blossoming trees and flowers, to fox cubs and leverets. Spring is unsurprisingly my favourite time of year, so this year I again made a point of getting out as much as possible to experience it, with my camera by my side. Here’s a look at some of my favourite photos from this spring, either for their aesthetic appeal, meaning to me, or overall joy factor.

Spring in Photos 2021

1. Blackthorn – This photo was taken at the beginning of April on a misty morning. It was a beautiful way to see delicate white blackthorn flowers in a different light, framed in front of a splintered stem.

2. Male blackbird – Blackbirds are an iconic sound of spring for me and also so many others. Their beautiful song often symbolises the beginnings of longer, lighter evenings, or for me fresh spring mornings. This male would sit in this willow tree every morning throughout spring to sing his song, defending his territory and mate. In particular, this male and his female nested in our shed, successfully fledging 5 chicks at the start of June.

3. Oak trees of a farming landscape – What hits me first in this photo is how bare this landscape seems for late April. The oak trees have barely begun their bud burst, looking skeletal behind a farm field that is being worked. This almost autumnal scene is refreshing though, showing the new beginnings of another year in nature.

4. Camera trap fox cub – This photo is one of my favourites from this spring, symbolising a successful spring camera trapping season (blog post to come). This was one location, an abandoned badger sett, where I thought that foxes may have been breeding. My camera trap proved my feeling to be right, and treated me to an assortment of photos, day and night, of 2 very active fox cubs. Just one of multiple litters that I found on my family’s farm this year!

5. Wood anemones – Wood anemones have slowly become one of my favourite spring flowers, being one of the first to appear in woodlands across the UK. They are a great indicator of ancient woodland, and an interesting flower to photograph for their shape and colour. My memory cards are full of all sorts of different types of photos of this species!

6. Tawny owl chicks – One of my highlights of spring this year has been ringing chicks under license with my bird ringing group (Conservation Action). In particular, I had a great day in early May at the Woodland Trust’s Duncliffe Woods site in North Dorset checking tawny owl nest boxes. It has been a poor year for tawny owls in general, which was reflected by Duncliffe Woods, but we did get lucky and found 3 active nest boxes. I had the pleasure of ringing these chicks, under permit, which will provide important information to help conserve tawny owls in the future.

7. Brown hare – This year has been the year of the hare on my family’s farm in Dorset. We have a reputation for being a great site for this species, but this year has been truly astounding. With 1-3 hares to every field, I was humbled to spend my spring out working alongside them everyday, getting to see them up close and experience their behaviour firsthand. Truly magical!

8. Pussy willow flowers – Willow flowers have been a difficult subject for me to photograph this year, with poor results. I was pleased though to find this refreshing photo on my memory card, of willow flowers stood out against a clear blue evening sky. They are beautiful in their own right.

9. Spider in macro – This photo that is not photographically ‘perfect’ is still a favourite of mine from this spring for other reasons. As I invest in my camera equipment, my latest edition has been my first professional macro lens. So this photo was the first photo I even took with my new lens, and it fills me with joy to see the new world I can now start to explore.

10. Grey wagtail – Last year my Dad began digging a pond in his field that he is currently wilding. Though he was rained off in the autumn before completion, the half-dug pond is already attracting a wealth of species from birds to insects. Majestic grey wagtails that have begun populating this area over the winter have also found the pond this spring.

11. Sunset – Though sunrises are magical, sunsets have always been my most favourite time of the day. This is because many of my happiest memories can be linked to beautiful and vibrant sunsets from field research in Canada to evenings at home on my family’s farm. I have seen so many incredible sunsets already so far, but I hope to see many more in the future.

12. Wild garlic – Though my busy spring dissuaded me from mornings waking up before the sunrise, I did spend a couple of glorious mornings waking up and getting out an hour or so after instead. The light is glorious at this time of day and always provides me with inspiration for my photos and life in general. This photo represents this magical time of day and the joys of spring flowers, wild garlic being an iconic example.

13. Feather in the bluebells – Wait, a feather again? Well feathers always sneak into my many files of photos, being a symbol of mine and representing my love of feathered species. They can also tell us useful information about what is living in a habitat, for example this feather is most likely from a collared dove.

14. Aberdeen angus calf – This photo is one of my favourite photos of one of my mum’s beef suckler calves. Spring is a time of new life in nature and on the farm, with my mum’s small free range beef herd giving birth at this time. This year they have weathered it through some turbulent months, but now are enjoying a bit of sunshine on their backs.

15. Honey bee – As I was intending to buy a macro lens this year, I made sure to time my purchase to be able to use it on the flowering of the poached egg plants in my family’s garden. It arrived well in advance, and, despite some rained off days, I got to spend some happy lunchtimes in the sunshine photographing bees on these flowers. This is one of my favourite macro photos of the flowers this year.

16. Dog roses – Dog roses were the last event of spring that I looked out for this year, and it kept me waiting! They were 22 days later for me than last year, with the first flowers blooming on the 8th June. They came out in force though, covering hedges within the space of a couple of days, adding some more colour to our hedgerows. With their lateness though, I feel like they also marked the end of spring this year.

Spring 2021: How It Happened

This spring has been an unexpected, unpredictable and turbulent season, that has taken its time to unfurl. Traditionally spring is a season that is characterised as calm and dry, with days getting longer and warmer, and the potential for cooler nights. As lighter evenings returned this year though, spring was far from traditional, with a stormy then hot March, cold and frosty April, and a wash out of a May.

Since 2017, I have recorded the dates of the events of spring every year, and with the start of my blog, every year since I have analysed and compared spring events to see how the season took form. Last year I showed that the timing of spring events is heavily linked to spring weather, resulting in either earlier or later occurrence accordingly. Over the last couple of years this has varied alot, so it will be interesting to see what has gone on this year.

This spring a lot has been going on for me, but I have still found time to be out in nature as much as possible and to enjoy the time when one season slips into another. It has felt that spring has dragged on longer this year, with the potential effects of spring starting warm and progressing to cold, then wet. So as this spring comes to a gradual close and the heat sets in, it is time to find out what actually went on during spring 2021.

Trees

This year there was a general trend for trees being later in their bud burst, leaves unfurling, and flowering compared to 2020. Even before the frosty nights of April, silver birch (Betula pendula) buds burst 14 days later on 26th March, Norway maple (Acer platanoides) first flowered 5 days later on 26th March, and beech (Fagus sylvatica) buds burst 14 days later on 27th March.

As we moved through April and into May, spring events began to stretch even further in their lateness. For example, wild cherry (Prunus avium) buds burst 35 days later on 8th April, horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) first flowered 18 days later on 20th April, alder (Alnus glutinosa) buds burst 15 days later on 21st April, the first lime (Tilia x europaea) leaves unfurled 23 days later on 26th April, pedunculate/english oak (Quercus robur) leaves first unfurled 31 days later on 5th May, and ash (Fraxinus excelsior) flowered 37 days later on 9th May.

Field maple (Acer campestre) did not follow this trend though, with bud burst being 10 days earlier on 26th March, and first leaves unfurling 5 days earlier on 1st April. This may be as these trees missed the worst of the spring weather, but for the other trees spring events ranged from being 1 to 37 days late!

Shrubs

For a lot of the shrub species I monitored a similar trend was shown as with tree species, being later compared to 2020. For example, elder (Sambucus nigra) leaves first unfurled 34 days later on 18th March, blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) first flowered 17 days later on 23rd March, and hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) first flowered 23 days later on 11th May.

Though half of the shrubs I monitored were later in their spring events, ranging anywhere from 2-34 days later, two species did not completely fit this trend. For lilac (Syringa vulgaris) bud burst occurred 12 days earlier on 24th February, but flowered 17 days later on 2nd May. This was the same for dog rose (Rosa canina), where buds burst 12 days earlier on 22nd February, but first flowered 22 days later on 8th June. For both of these species though, it is the spring events occurring before April that are earlier, as the ones occurring in April and May were not immune to the frosts and heavy rainfall like the other shrubs.

Flowers

For many of our commonly associated spring flower species, there was a little more of a split between appearing earlier or later, but on average they flowered later compared to 2020. Snowdrops (Galanthus spp.) first flowered 15 days later on 18th January, wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) 8 days later on 30th March, bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and greater stitchwort (Stellaria holostea) both 4 days later on 1st April, cowslips (Primula veris) 12 days later on 2nd April, early purple orchid (Orchis mascula) 12 days later on 18th April, wild garlic (Allium ursinum) 14 days later on 20th April, and oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) 16 days later on 3rd June.

The exceptions were a section of earlier flowering species, including primrose (Primula vulgaris) first flowering 27 days earlier on 31st December, lesser celandine (Ficaria verna) 3 days earlier on 15th January, daffodil (Narcissus spp.) 22 days earlier on 19th January, and cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) 10 days earlier on 8th April. These flowers would have been influenced by a warmer winter and start to spring, generally flowering before the cold spell in April.

Birds

On average, bird species spring events have also become later this year compared to 2020. I heard my first song thrush (Turdus philomelos) singing 17 days later on 1st January, I saw my first rook (Corvus frugilegus) nests being built 10 days later on 25th February, and I heard my first chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) on 16th March. April and May events were again influenced, for example I saw my first swallow (Hirundo rustica) 5 days later on 10th April, saw my first house martin (Delichon urbicum) 9 days later on 21st April, heard my first cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) 3 days later on 1st May, and saw my first swift (Apus apus) 10 days later on 16th May.

There were two exceptions though, where I recorded hearing my first blackbird (Turdus merula) singing 13 days earlier on 10th February, and saw my first blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) 8 days earlier on 14th April. These would most likely relate to other influencing factors, such as overwintering in the UK or habitat requirements.

Insects

Compared to previous years, I have still yet to see some species of butterfly that would typically be on the wing by now, such as gatekeeper butterflies (Pyronia tithonus). For the insects I have seen though, again there was a split in event occurrence compared to 2020. For example, I saw my first small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) 2 days later on 7th April, red admiral butterfly (Vanessa atalanta) 26 days later on 7th April, brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) 26 days later on 18th April, and speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) 52 days later on 13th June.

The early emergers came in the form of my first buff-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris) 14 days earlier on 27th February, peacock butterfly (Aglais io) 5 days earlier on 30th March, orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines) 13 days earlier on 31st March, and red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius) 12 days earlier on 19th April. Despite these species appearing earlier in spring, later flowering plants will have had a knock-on effect for them due to a mismatch in timing for food. Only further down the line will we be able to see the extent of this impact.

Summary

This year I have recorded more spring dates than I have done so before, such as alder trees flowering, first yellowhammer singing, and first green-veined white butterfly, which will be useful information during the years to come. This reflects how I have felt more in touch with nature this year even with the unusual weather patterns, such as alot of rain! It became clear as we went through May though, that there was a trend for events happening later and later. This is why I was so interested to see how far this trend actually extended amongst species.

Last year I wrote that spring events are ‘in fact getting later, which will be related to… weather and environmental factors here and further afield’. This year this has turned out to be the case, which shows how climate change is having more of an impact through changes in weather patterns rather than just warmer temperatures. Earlier spring events have been getting earlier with warmer winters, but heavy rainfall and colder starts to spring have been affecting late March to May events most. I wonder now what impact this might have as we move forward, for example greater mismatches in ecological timings.

Walking through the Bluebells

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care
– Emily Brontë (The Bluebell)

That moment I stop, take a breath, and take in this spring spectacle for the first time each year, always fills me with joy each and every time. There is nothing quite like the rich violet-blue carpeting a woodland floor as far as the eye can see, brightening even an overcast day. This incredible event also bombards the rest of the senses at the same time, from the heady scent of millions of nodding heads to birds layering their songs to create the perfect soundtrack. A walk amongst the trees allows you to escape for a while and to forget the wider world.

The beautiful bluebell is one of the most iconic native flower species in the UK, and a favourite for many. They have captured imaginations for centuries from art to literature, and have garnered the name ‘Fairy Flower’ from the rich folklore that surrounds this dainty flower. Putting much fantasy aside, bluebells have also been a useful flower to humans throughout the ages, with purposes including preventing nightmares, bookbinding, and even clothes starching.

This year my spring has been a lively one, but I have still tried to experience as much of the season as possible, bluebells included. A big part of this for me was adventuring to my local woods to take in the changing of the seasons, and to take in this fantastic habitat. For me, Dorset is one of the best places to see bluebells, as is the south west, due to many remaining areas of ancient woodland and a slightly milder climate. With this in mind, during the first week of May, I ventured out to 3 stunning woodlands close to my home in Dorset for some adventures.

Bluebell Wood Number 1 – Horse Close Wood (Wednesday 5th May)

This year in my favourite local woods, I spotted my first bluebell on the 7th of April. It then took until May for the bluebells to finally come into their own, thanks to the cold and frosty mornings at the start of spring. So on the afternoon of Wednesday the 5th of May I headed to Horse Close Wood for my first walk of the year through the bluebells. I could not help but be a little excited on my walk there, as there is something truly special about seeing this iconic spring scene for the first time each year.

As always this woodland did not disappoint. When you arrive at the gate you cannot at first see very far, but as you move on and round the first corner the wood hits you. You are suddenly met with a resplendent deep blue carpet, dotted with the whites, pinks and yellows, of early purple orchid, stitchwort, yellow archangel and more. You are also bombarded with a symphony of song, with birds including chiffchaffs, song thrush, blackbirds, robins, and nuthatches. With seclusion and a diversity of plant life, this wood is a great home for wildlife, from the small, such as spiders and butterflies, to the larger, such as roe deer and badgers.

Walking through the bluebells in Horse Close Wood holds many happy memories for me, including walking our family dog through the wood during her very last year with us. It is a place that brings me comfort and new experiences, helping me through happy and tougher times, such as university exams and lockdowns. It will be a place that keeps me coming back for years to come.

Bluebell Wood Number 2 – Cockroad Copse (Thursday 6th May)

After a successful walk in the woods the day before, on my second day off I decided to head to another of my local woods to see some more bluebells. I held off going until later in the day, as the weather had been a bit off, but I was rewarded with some warm and calm weather for my adventure.

Named Cockroad Copse for its smaller size, it is made up of similar tree species to the Horse Close Wood, such as oak and hazel, but lacks some of the habitat variation of the larger wood, for example small holly trees and streams. It is also less secluded, being close to a road and gasworks, and not far from a nearby village. As a result the Copse sees more human visitors and is a little less wildlife-rich than my larger favourite.

Despite some limitations, the Copse on this day was still spectacular in its spring finery, with native bluebells dotted with some ancient wood indicators, such as wood anemone and wild garlic. The woods was also enriching for the rest of my senses with the fresh, green smell of new life, the heady scent of bluebells at their peak, a fresh, cool taste on the tongue, a gentle breeze on my skin, and the brush of undergrowth. The evening sun was the icing on the cake, cutting through holes in the canopy and creating a rather magical atmosphere. When a setting plays with your senses, it is refreshing and allows you to forget yourself for a little while.

Bluebell Wood Number 3 – Ochill Woods (Sunday 9th May)

To finish my week of bluebell adventures, I made a spontaneous trip to another local woodland. I had taken time off to join tawny owl nest box checking at Duncliffe woods for the morning, but I decided to continue my nature adventures into the afternoon, and head off for another walk. My spur of the moment trip led me to a layby on top of Bulbarrow hill, 10 minutes from my home, and to a footpath on a map heading to what I hoped would be a bluebell wood.

Thankfully my map reading paid off, as I discovered a stunning little woodland called Ochill Woods. The first moment I saw its interior took my breath away, as I did not quite believe I would stumble into such a promising area of bluebells. The open woodland was picturesque in the overcast afternoon sun, with the blue woodland floor set against lime-green beech trees.

Compared to the previous woodlands that I had visited, the area of Ochill I walked was a very different habitat. This woodland was more of a plantation, with less undergrowth, fewer flower species, and a stillness to it. Still the woodland had an effect on me, with vibrant colours and a calming power, typical of a walk amongst the trees. It was lovely to just walk, take photos, and unwind. The trip was made even better by missing out on the afternoon’s rain showers!

Celebrating the Spring Season

Spring is by far my most favourite time of the year. It is a time of warmer weather, lighter evenings, buds bursting, animal travellers returning, new life, and new beginnings. It is a time to refresh and revive, gain new strength to move forward, and celebrate what spring means for us and our wild world.

For me the first snowdrops whisper of spring coming, and blooming yellow flowers sing of new starts, but for me spring truly begins with the return of the chiffchaff. The song of the chiffchaff epitomises the feeling that spring is here, and that the season now has hold of the landscape. It is much harder though for me to sum up just one or two favourite spring moments, as I love all that spring has to offer. I gain joy in moments ranging from bursting cherry blossom and the first oak leaves to fox cubs and the return of swallows. However, a star of spring for me has to be when our woodlands become carpeted with the brilliant blues and heady scent of native bluebells. Walking amongst these sensational flowers has given me many happy memories growing up and moving into my adult years.

Spring 2021 has been a tumultuous spring to say the least. Despite this, I have tried to make the most of the season and all it has to offer, rain or shine. Many of you too will have done the same, even though many people I know do not share their spring moments with others. With this in mind, when celebrating spring this year on my blog, I wanted to focus on more than what spring means to me and to include some of my friends and family in my celebration. So, I asked them the questions: What signs make you think that spring has arrived? And what is your favourite thing about the spring season (out in nature)? Here’s what they had to offer:

Nick Tuke, my Dad and farmer, Dorset

The signs that make me think that spring has arrived come in the form of spring flowers, such as daffodils, primroses and bluebells, or seeing the first swallows. My favourite part of spring has to be being out first thing in the morning, when the sense of bright, fresh, greenness, and new life, fills you with a sense of optimism for the year ahead, before the summer heat dulls everything.

Amanda Tuke, my Aunt and London-based naturalist

I always feel that spring has arrived when I see my first hairy-footed flower bee in the garden. The females have gorgeous black furry bodies and they have a very distinctive and energetic way of flying.

There’s a point in spring when a number of my favourite grasses are all finally in flower and looking particularly pretty, in particular Sweet Vernal Grass, Meadow Foxtail, Wood Melick and Wood Millet.

Kasia Starosta, my friend and member of Conservation Action, Dorset

Springtime starts for me with the first glimpse of the curlews flying inland to breed. It’s all about magic “curleee” in the air and familiar shape cutting across the sky. Looking at them I remember some of the names people were giving them. Old French ‘corliu’ the messenger, latin ‘Numenius arquata’ – new moon, bow shaped bill bird… There comes the reflection how far we have travelled from nature, not knowing what species are living around us now, not mentioning naming them after changing seasons and planets.

Judyth Tuke, my Granny, Dorset

For me the first sign that spring has arrived is seeing the first swallow over the garden. This year though, they did not arrive until the end of April.

The things I enjoy most in spring are watching the first flowers opening in the wild or in my garden.

Emily White, my friend, software engineer and writer, Winchester

I know Spring has arrived when it is announced by the smell of grass in the air, flooding my mind with memories of Spring Term lunchtimes spent sat outside on my school’s field. The coming of Spring is further confirmed by birds having conversations ever later into the evenings.

My favourite thing about Springtime out in nature is not actually something the landscape does itself but the way the Springtime sun presents it, showcasing the vivid colours of the fields. This is much unlike the Summer sun which makes everything far too yellow. However, if I had to pick something that happened within nature it would certainly be the sudden appearance of hoards of ducklings.

Marilyn Tuke, my Mum and my nature guru, Dorset

I feel like spring has arrived when I see the first yellows of primroses, celandines, daffodils, and cowslips when walking through the countryside. My favourite part of the season though, is when on early morning walks in spring, I hear the birds singing, such as chiffchaffs, chaffinches, great tits, blue tits, and many more, and I am able to pick out and know each of these individual species. A special spring favourite too is seeing barn owls hunting close to home at this time of year.

Ellie McNeall, my friend and geography teacher, Hampshire

I think that spring has arrived with the signs of life which start to come, such as the daffodils and the buds on the trees, which symbolise new beginnings. My favourite parts of spring are the daffodils and bluebells which come out at this time of year, and start to show that new life is coming after the cold winter. Also, I enjoy seeing lots of baby animals everywhere, especially little baby lambs jumping and little ducklings.

Andy Dell, my uncle, Northamptonshire

Spring is usually close when you see the first sign of the brimstone butterfly. They manage to find the first spot of warm sunshine, but in the changing climate other butterflies are now earlier visitors to the garden especially the purple emperor in this area. Also, the horse chestnut is probably the earliest tree, the big sticky buds the first to show. As the seasons change and merge in to each other it is becoming more difficult to define the start of spring. My favourite part of spring though, is when the sap starts to rise and you start to see the first bright vibrant greens in the trees and hedgerows, the more insistent bird song as the birds seem to reawaken to the prospect of better times, and the little owls are on the wing.

Emma Rogan, my friend, IT auditor and nature enthusiast, Manchester

Spring is in the air when the first bees start to appear in the garden, and when my favourite walk by the river becomes completely carpeted with wild garlic!

There are so many things I love about the spring season! I love being able to sit outside in the fresh air and read my book with a cup of tea, and this year I’ve found so much happiness in getting to know the wild residents of our garden. Mr and Mrs Blackbird visit daily for their plate of mealworms, and our friendly neighborhood fox is a regular nighttime visitor. I also have a special place in my heart for bees (Manchester girl!), so seeing big fluffy bees out on their travels is always lovely. I like going on walks along our local river with my mum and seeing how many different birds we can spot, particularly when we spot proud mum ducks with their ducklings.

Thank you to my friends and family that took part and have helped me out with this spring celebration!

How to… Identify Tree Species

A majestic oak standing tall in the landscape, watching as centuries pass it by. A silver birch with drooping branches, embellished with leaves, slowly blowing in the breeze. An alder leaning over the edge of a river, spreading its branches to shade the bank beneath it. From capturing the imaginations of children to symbolising strength and life for adults, trees in all their forms are an important part of the landscape and culture within Britain.

With over 70 species in the UK alone, trees come in all shapes and sizes, and can be found anywhere from our highlands to our cities. Trees colonised Britain following the last glaciation, and have since become intertwined with our very own history. They provide us with so much, including resources, such as medicines and building materials, improved air quality, homes for wildlife, and even cultural services, such as therapy through forest bathing. Thus, they are a very important part of our environment!

Now, as our reliance on trees grows and the threats to them increase, it is surprising how little people know about trees in general. For example, the average Brit is unable to name more than five tree species, and a third even believe a money tree is a real species! With two thirds of the public now wanting to learn a little more about the trees in their area, here’s my handy guide to help you identify 10 common tree species that can be found in the UK.

Tree Species

1. Pedunculate or English Oak (Quercus robur)

  • Family: Fagaceae – related to species such as beech and sweet chestnut
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Up to 40m tall, upward-reaching and broad crown
  • Stems and twigs: Massive rugged grey-brown trunk
  • Leaves: 10-12cm long, oblong, and lobed, turning brown in autumn
  • Flowers: On the same tree and flowering April-June. Male flowers= yellow-green catkins; female flowers= pinkish and on short stalks
  • Seeds: Produces the familiar acorn, with scaly cups and clusters carried on long stalks
  • Range & habitat: Widespread and common throughout Britain, found in habitats ranging from deciduous and mixed woodlands to open grassland and hedgerows

In Winter: Look for rounded buds that have overlapping scales and are found in clusters at the end of each shoot

2. Sessile oak (Quercus petraea)

  • Differs to Pedunculate Oak in that the leaves taper to an unlobed base and have long stalks.
  • Buds in winter have more scales (more than 20).
  • Also, the clustered acorns are almost stalk-less with downy cups.
  • Narrower in shape, prefers more acid soils, and is more common in the West of Britain.

3. Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

  • Family: Oleaceae – related to olive trees and lilac
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Tall and domed with widely spaced branches, growing up to 35m
  • Stems and twigs: Bark is pale brown to grey, becoming rugged with age
  • Leaves: Opposite and toothed, with 9-13 stalked leaflets that have long tips
  • Flowers: Male and female flowers typically grow on different trees, but both have purple flowers growing in clusters before the leaves
  • Seeds: Single seeds with a long wing (known as keys)
  • Range & habitat: Woods and hedges, in particular flourishing on a lime-rich/well-drained soil

In Winter: Smooth twigs with distinctive hairless black buds, and ridged bark on adult trees that resembles a diamond pattern

4. Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

  • Family: Sapindaceae – related to lychee and maples
  • Origin: Non-native (introduced in the 1500s from the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe)
  • Shape and size: Arching branches, usually turned up at the ends, growing up to 35m tall
  • Stems and twigs: Bark is scaly and red-brown or dark grey-brown
  • Leaves: Five to seven large, thick, stalkless leaflets with pronounced veins and a long, tapering base
  • Flowers: Showy spike (candle) of white flowers with a yellow to pink spot
  • Seeds: Spiny fruit contains one or more shiny conkers
  • Range & habitat: It has now become a widespread and common sight across Britain, tolerating a wide range of soils

In Winter: Smooth bark and sticky buds

5. Common Alder (Alnus glutinosa)

  • Family: Betulaceae – related to hazel and birches
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Regular branching and conical shape, growing up to 25m
  • Stems and twigs: Dark brown bark that is often rough and sprouts young shoots
  • Leaves: Alternate, rounded, sometimes notched at the tip, and dark green
  • Flowers: Male and female catkins grow on the same tree, before the leaves. Male catkins= lambs’ tails; female catkins= small and egg-shaped
  • Seeds: Female catkins turn into a small cone, drying from green to brown, releasing the seeds. The seeds have corky outgrowths that keep them afloat on water
  • Range & habitat: Thrives in wet ground and is often seen lining the banks of rivers and streams across Britain

In Winter: Appears dull purplish due to purplish buds

6. Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

  • Family: Betulaceae – related to alders, hazels and hornbeams
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Erect with pointed crown and drooping branches, reaching up to 30m
  • Stems and twigs: Young bark reddish, maturing to black and papery-white bark. Twigs smooth with small dark bumps
  • Leaves: Alternate, triangular and shiny, on slender stalks. Edges are ragged, with smaller teeth between larger main teeth
  • Flowers: Male catkins= purply-brown; female catkins= smaller and pale green
  • Seeds: Two winged and wind-borne, released in winter
  • Range & habitat: Form natural woodlands on light, dry soils throughout Britain

In Winter: Distinctive shape and bark

7. Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus)

  • Family: Sapindaceae – related to maples and horse chestnut
  • Origin: Non-native (introduced from Europe either in the 1500s or by the Romans)
  • Shape and size: Massive domed outline, with dense foliage and heavy lower branches, growing up to 35m
  • Stems and twigs: Grey fissured bark ages to pinkish-brown
  • Leaves: Opposite, five-lobed, and upper side dark green
  • Flowers: Greeny-yellow flowers in hanging clusters appear with the leaves
  • Seeds: Hairless keys in right-angled pairs
  • Range & habitat: Grow vigorously in all parts of Britain, being widely planted on their own for shelter or in woodlands and hedgerows

In Winter: Distinctive shape and bark

8. Wild Cherry (Prunus avium)

  • Family: Rosaceae – related to roses
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Pyramidal shape, reaching up to 30m
  • Stems and twigs: Shiny, red-brown bark peels in horizontal strips
  • Leaves: Alternate and oval with long points and regular, forward-pointing teeth, and two conspicuous red glands at the top of the stalk
  • Flowers: White flowers (blossom) appear before the leaves in small, loose clusters
  • Seeds: Produces round, red cherries
  • Range & habitat: Native throughout the UK, being found in woodlands and hedgerows

In Winter: Distinctive bark

9. Common Hazel (Corylus avellana)

  • Family: Betulaceae – related to birches, alders and hornbeams
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Many stems rise from the ‘stool’, which if left uncut can reach 9m
  • Stems and twigs: Bark coppery brown, smooth and tending to peel
  • Leaves: Alternate, almost circular with sawtooth edges, hairy, and soft to the touch
  • Flowers: Male and female flowers found on the same tree. Male= lemon-yellow lambstail catkins; Female= tiny buds with red tassels
  • Seeds: An edible nut encased in a thick-green husk, ripening in autumn
  • Range & habitat: Grows throughout Britain, often found in woods, scrub areas, and hedges

In Winter: Distinctive shape and bark, accompanied by the male catkins from December

10. Field Maple (Acer campestre)

  • Family: Sapindaceae – related to lychee and horse chestnut
  • Origin: Native
  • Shape and size: Round-shaped tree with branches that droop at the end, growing up to 26m
  • Stems and twigs: Bark is grey or light brown and twigs downy, later corky
  • Leaves: Emerging leaves have a pinkish tinge, turning dull-green, and are opposite and small, with three main, round-tipped lobes and two smaller basal lobes
  • Flowers: Small yellow-green flowers form erect clusters
  • Seeds: Each pair of seed wings lie in an almost straight line, are often tinged with pink
  • Range & habitat: Frequent in England and East Wales in woods and hedgerows

In Winter: Sinuous trunk and distinctive shape

Drawings and photos all my own

How to… Bring Nature Into Your Home This Christmas

Christmas for me, alongside being all about family, friendship and feeling grateful, is deep rooted in nature. This is not unusual though, as people have been taking direction from nature during mid-winter celebrations for thousands of years. From the Romans decorating their homes with greenery to the Victorian Christmas tree, from pagans to Christians, the inspiration for how Christmas looks today has often come from the world outside our doors. For me, every year during December, I also bring nature into my home in the form of plant life. But why and how?

Plants and Christmas

During the winter and Christmas period, it’s popular for evergreens to be brought into our homes to be used as decorations. This practice has been observed for thousands of years, evolving but often holding the same symbolism and meaning. Evergreens are a traditional symbol of everlasting life due to their longevity, and were worshipped by pagans as symbols of immortality and everlasting light, being used to ward off illness and evil spirits. The bright natural colours of evergreens have also long provided inspiration for many, and still do during the cold, dark days of winter. They are a symbol of celebration and remind us that the days of spring will return in time.

Some Christmas examples include:

Mistletoe – A long history in Britain from being sacred to the druids and warding off evil spirits during the Middle Ages to symbolising healing, shelter and fertility. It was once banned from Christian churches due to its pagan links. The Victorians gave the plant its modern tradition of being hung in a doorway to kiss under, though the exact reason why we do this is still unknown.

Holly – Long associated with fertility, protection and eternal life in Britain, due to being able to withstand harsh conditions. It was originally brought into people’s homes to ward off witches and malevolent spirits during the dark months, before being adopted by the Church to symbolise Jesus’ sacrifice (prickles= thorns and berries= spilt blood).

Poinsettas – Native to Mexico and brought over from America, the flowers have become a meaningful symbol of Christmas. Their star shape is thought to symbolise the Star of Bethlehem, and the colours either purity or the spilt blood of Christ. For some, Poinsettas also symbolise new life.

Ivy – Symbolises everlasting life, resurrection, rebirth, and the coming of spring. During Christmas time, Ivy is closely associated with Holly, being once considered a female plant whereas Holly was the matching male plant. It was said that whichever of these two species was brought into the house first during the winter, would predict whether a man or woman would be in charge of the house for the next year. Now popular at Christmas, Ivy was once banished from homes by the Christian church due to its ability to grow in the shade, giving it associations with secrecy and debauchery.

How to make your own Christmas decorations

Bringing nature into your home is a great way to brighten things up and add a bit of colour to your Christmas festivities. Though it is understandable if you feel daunted by the prospect of turning your hand to making your very own decorations for the first time, such as a wreath or centrepiece, it is actually a simple and a great way to create decorations personal to you. Using natural materials can be a fun and easy way to do this, so why not try something new and have a go! For a little inspiration and some tips, here are some of the decorations that I put together for my family home each year, including this year.

Popularly Used Species

  • Holly – With and without berries
  • Ivy
  • Rose hips
  • Teasels – Some sprayed with non-toxic paint

Centrepiece and Mantlepiece Decorations

For my centrepiece and mantelpiece decorations, every year I simply use a couple of small metal buckets with a bit of oasis in them. My squares of oasis are reused again and again each year, so if you are starting out it is better to use a non-toxic, biodegradable alternative that will not harm the environment.

To begin putting together one of my Christmas arrangements, I start with placing a candle at the centre (though it is simply for decoration). I then build up from there, beginning with a few Teasels around or behind the candle, then adding Holly with and without berries, Rose hips, and Ivy. You can arrange the greenery however you want and add what you like. It is a bit of fun of course!

Basic Wreath

A wreath’s circular shape has long been seen as a symbol of eternal love and rebirth. They can first be traced back to early Roman times, where wreaths were made and given during the festival of Saturnalia each year (check out my blog post: The Twists of Christmas Traditions for more information).

To begin my wreath, I use a basic wooden wreath as my base and work from there. I usually start by wrapping Holly around the base and adding extra Holly with and without berries. This year I was happy with just Holly, but other years I have added Ivy and other greenery, and decorations such as ribbon. Less is more though, and watch out for the Holly’s spiky prickles!

Vase Arrangements

To finish my Christmas decorations, I like to use whatever greenery I have left to create some simple vase arrangements in fun vases. Teasels and Ivy are a great mix for this, adding a little colour and decoration to any room.

Warning

When collecting your greenery, pick only what you need, especially when picking plants with berries, such as Holly. These berries are a source of food for animals during the winter, so it is important that we leave some for them too.

Stay safe and Merry Christmas!

The Twists of Christmas Traditions

December is a time for magic and the sparking of our imaginations to bring us warmth through bleak days and long cold nights. As the end of the month draws near, our worlds are filling with images of twinkling lights, decadent festive food, and idyllic Christmas card scenes. We welcome Christmas traditions back into our homes, spend time being thankful for what we have, and spend time with family. For how Christmas is shaped today we have the Victorians to thank, but for many of our modern day traditions their origins lay even further back, from times when celebrations were deep rooted in our wild landscapes. As Christmas creeps closer, let’s take a look back at the origins of a few popular traditions, and get in touch with our wild and remarkable past.

The celebration of mid-winter can be traced as far back as the Roman times. Even before the birth of Jesus, the Romans celebrated this time of year with a festival called Saturnalia, a pagan festival honouring Saturn the Roman god of agriculture and fertility. It was a celebration of the year’s harvest, whilst looking forward to the spring and return of the sun, and trying to ensure a successful next harvest. Starting around the 17th of December, the Romans would offer gifts and sacrifices, decorate their houses with wreaths and greenery, wear colourful clothing, light candles, hold feasts, and be merry. Today’s paper crowns and festive hats can also be traced back to the Romans and Saturnalia. Thus, it is not a new thing to honour the end of the year and welcome the next with colourful celebrations and festivities!

One part of the magic of Christmas for me is the making of sweet treats that are only associated with this time of year. For example, sweet biscuits have long been made to mark Christmas festivities, gaining their spiced flavour, reminiscent of winter, during the Middle Ages. This evolved into gingerbread men, first appearing in 16th century England when Queen Elizabeth I had them made to impress foreign dignitaries and subjects in court. A century later, gingerbread houses joined Christmas traditions, becoming popular in Germany in 1812 following the publication of the Brothers Grimm story, Hansel and Gretel. For many years now I have continued the tradition of making both gingerbread men and houses as part of my Christmas celebrations!