Wildlife Photos for 2021

Last year was an unusual one for us all, as we got used to a new reality, but for me it was also a year of colour, amazing wildlife, and fabulous adventures. I learnt alot and was able to continue to grow as a person, which includes my skill in wildlife photography and passion for communicating nature with you all. To celebrate, here’s a collection of my nature photos spanning 2021, capturing a range of themes, species and stories, and holding a feel good factor. Enjoy!

January

I began my year taking advantage of frosty mornings to capture the birds relying on our garden during the winter. Here a starling looking magnificent in its speckled plumage.

February

In 2021 I made it my mission to take my first up close photos of snowdrops. I enjoyed the challenge, brightening up a gloomier start to my year.

March

As the first signs of spring began to arrive, my focus turned to the ground and colourful spring flowers. Here a celandine peaks out its sunshine head from a thick cluster of green leaves.

April

As spring burst into life, my focus turned to the animal species now becoming active in the rural landscape. Here is a relaxed hare (and pheasant) that I ended up spending a sunny afternoon watching feed on this hillside.
Each year grey wagtails are becoming a more and more frequent sight on my family’s farmland. We now have a soft spot for them as they brighten gloomy winter days and add a flash of colour in spring sunshine.

May

In 2021 I bought my very first macro lens which I was very excited about. It was great fun to head out with no set challenge, and just see what I could find!

June

Last year was definitely the year of butterflies for me. I had alot of fun expanding my knowledge of species and getting to see an increasing number living on my family’s land, such as this meadow brown.

July

A series of photos that I took of this ladybird became some of my favourites for myself and my family in 2021!
Another one of my 2021 favourites, a spectacular marbled white!

August

There’s something special about a sunrise over water with pinks, oranges and yellows streaked across the sky like a watercolour.

September

One of my favourite places to be is between two ears exploring the countryside. Here I also had the golden glow of a setting autumn sun to make my ride even more magical.

October

Autumn has some of the best sunsets, with everyday promising something different. Here an oak tree holds on to its leaves as autumn continues its advance through the landscape.

November

A magical part of late autumn is seeing the sun rise over dewy fields covered in a blanket of wafting spiders’ webs. These are produced by thousands of small spiders active before winter arrives.

December

To round off the year, one of my wildlife activities was to plant some new fruiting trees and shrubs down in my family’s conservation field (here a crab apple). Tree planting is definitely a rewarding activity at this time of year!

Here’s to new adventures in 2022!

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!

Though the first sweet mince pie is a more recent creation, the first genuine mince pie was enjoyed during the Middle Ages, hundreds of years ago. These mince pies were instead filled with savoury minced meat, chopped fruit, and a preserving liquid, and were larger than those we know today. Traditionally people would eat one of these mince pies every day from Christmas to Twelfth Night (5th January), otherwise it was said that they would suffer misfortune for the whole of the next year. Since then the mince pie has undergone its evolution, becoming the mince pie many of us know and love today.

From the Yule log to stollen, many Christmas sweet treats have been around for hundreds of years. One such is the iconic candy cane that originated in 1670’s Germany. It was said that they were first made as white candy sticks by the choirmaster of Cologne cathedral to give to young singers to keep them still during the long Christmas Eve church services each year. If this is true or not, by 1900 they had taken on their curved shape, red stripes and peppermint flavouring reminiscent of Christmas.

Many of our Christmas traditions and symbols are rooted in nature, for example one popular symbol of Christmas close to nature is the Robin. It is unknown exactly why this is so, but there are lots of interesting legends and reasons associated. For example:

  • A Robin was at the birth of Jesus, and fanned the flames of the dying fire to keep Mary and Jesus warm. The Robin’s breast was scorched by a stray ember though, and so for the bird’s kindness, Mary declared that this badge of kindness would in memory pass on to the Robin’s descendants
  • In the UK, Robins are seen in increased numbers in our gardens during the winter months
  • Royal Mail postmen were nicknamed Robins during the Victorian times due to their bright red uniforms

Whatever the true reason, they are a colourful addition to Christmas celebrations!

Even the origins of Father Christmas can be connected to nature. Though the image of Santa Claus and his reindeer sleigh first came to our shores from America in the 1870s, the idea of Father Christmas has been around for a very long time. Father Christmas was once associated with pagan winter festivals in the 17th century and represented the coming of spring. He was dressed all in green with a wreath of Holly, Mistletoe, or Ivy and was a symbol of happy times, and those to come, brightening winter celebrations.

During the festive period, one ancient custom is still being practised in orchards across the country. Traditionally held on Twelfth Night (5th January), this 400 year old tradition is called Apple Wassailing, where wassail comes from the Anglo-Saxon for whole or healthy. During these celebrations, a wassail king and queen would lead a group of revellers to an orchard, where cider would be poured over the roots of the largest and most prolific apple tree, known as the Apple Tree Man, cider-soaked toast would be hung in its branches, and a toast would be made to the health of the tree. This tradition aimed to scare away bad spirits in the orchard and wake up the trees in the hope of a bountiful harvest next autumn!

One of the most popular modern Christmas traditions still celebrated across the UK is putting up a Christmas tree. Last year alone, ninety per cent of families in the UK put up a Christmas tree in their home. This tradition first became popular during the Victorian era, when Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert brought trees over from Germany for his family in 1840. Despite this, the first Christmas tree was actually brought to England in 1800, by Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III.

Greenery has long been used to decorate homes during the winter, with trees even being used during the Roman times. In some countries, evergreen boughs were believed to keep evil spirits and illness away, but most importantly they were a reminder that abundance would once again return. Check out my next Christmas-themed blog post out on Monday 21st to take a look at the history of natural decorations, and how you can bring some natural colour into your own home this Christmas.

However you celebrate Christmas time, it is important to stop and think about where our traditions come from. They are rich in history and meaning and can allow us to anchor ourselves during a turbulent season. My favourite parts of Christmas often relate to nature and baking, which have long been a part of celebrating this time of year. Why not join me in honouring our history and start a new Christmas tradition this year!

26 Years of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch: Getting Involved During Lockdown

As winter creeps into the landscape and a second lockdown keeps us close to home, our gardens are once again coming alive. Wrens creep through the undergrowth catching insects, Robins sing to defend small territories, and Long-Tailed Tits flit between hedgerows foraging in family groups. It’s not just the birds though, other species are settling down to see out the winter in our gardens too, from butterflies and toads to hedgehogs and ladybirds.

With this year being a bit different, I have found it a great time to take part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, to further connect with nature, boost my mental health, and do my bit. Gardens are very important homes for wildlife, not just at this time of year, so now is an important time for us to understand how we can better help the wildlife that share our gardens with us. If you have a bit of time on your hands, want to do something a bit different, or are interested in the wildlife on your doorstep, then this survey could be just what you need!

The BTO and the Garden BirdWatch

So, what is the BTO? Well, the BTO stands for the British Trust for Ornithology, where ornithology refers to the study of birds. Started in Oxford in 1933, this now Norfolk-based charity aims to engage people with science whilst advancing the understanding of birds and now other wildlife species. With over 60,000 dedicated volunteers, and projects ranging from bird ringing and Cuckoo tracking to urban gull and bat surveys, the BTO has gone from strength-to-strength.

Set up in 1995, one popular BTO project has been the Garden Birdwatch, a project aiming to understand the relationship between wildlife species and our gardens, and how and why some of these species populations may be undergoing change. In a nutshell, the Garden BirdWatch is about participants recording the birds they see in their garden, along with mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, bumblebees, and dragonflies. As vital habitat for wildlife continues to decrease, whilst the importance of gardens as substitute habitat increases, the information we can provide now can be used to better tailor help to support wildlife in the future.

So why should you take part? Well, the Garden BirdWatch is a great way to enjoy the wildlife in your garden, improve your knowledge, and allow you to follow the annual cycle of life. Taking part is also easy! All you need is a garden, a minimum of 20 minutes a week, and a way to identify the species you see. You do not need to have a big or elaborate garden, put food out, or be an expert. With the Garden BirdWatch currently being free for a year, signing up is easy. Provide a few details about your garden, and get started recording the garden birds and other wildlife that visit you.

Why not join thousands of other volunteers today, and do something new from the comfort of your own home!

Examples of Results

Last year marked the 25th year of the Garden BirdWatch, and so the BTO have now been able to use 25 years of weekly garden observations to begin analysing the relationship between our gardens and wildlife. For example:

  • Goldfinches, Woodpigeons, Nuthatches, and Jackdaws have become an increasingly common sight in our gardens, relying on our gardens for vital foraging habitat
  • Song Thrushes, Greenfinches, Starlings, and House Sparrows have become a less common sight in our gardens since 1995, due to a range of factors from disease to loss of habitat

I have now been taking part in the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch for the last 21 weeks. This time has gone past so fast, but has opened my mind to the diversity and abundance of species that visit my garden through the seasons. To sum up my time so far, here are some of my results:

  • I have observed 26 different bird species in my garden, with the most abundant species being Starlings (50 on 28th July) and House Sparrows (40 on 28th July), followed by Goldfinches (30 on 1st October)
  • Every week Blue Tits, Great Tits, Collared Doves, Pheasants, Goldfinches, and House Sparrows have been consistently recorded
  • As summer has moved into autumn and winter, Coal Tits, Jackdaws, and flocks of Goldfinches have become newly reliant on my garden, whereas Great-Spotted Woodpeckers, flocks of House Sparrows, Pheasants, flocks of Starlings, and Sparrowhawks have decreased their visits
  • No week or month has been the same, with summer highlights including Greenfinches, Siskins, Chiffchaffs, and Garden Warblers!

So, why not see what wildlife you can encounter this winter?

Giving Nature a Home on the Farm

‘Give fools their gold, and knaves their power; let fortune’s bubbles rise and fall; who sows a field, or trains a flower, or plants a tree, is more than all’ – John Greenleaf Whittier 

‘Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live, or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation’ – Charles Cook

My family and I live on a 250 acre mixed dairy farm in the heart of beautiful Dorset, complete with sheep and beef cows. My parents took the farm on from Dorset County Council in 1995, at a time when it was only 50 acres, and have now expanded it to the 250 acres it is today. As long as I can remember, the farm has been my home. It is a part of who I am, providing the backdrop for me to learn about the natural world, to make informed decisions about how I live my life, and to become passionate about conservation. I have my parents to thank for this.

In 2019, the latest State of Nature report showed that agricultural change has been the largest driver of biodiversity loss over the last 45 years in the UK. With 72% of UK land area being used for agriculture and food production, land management changes have had a significant impact on the wildlife that call these areas home. As we now move forward, we need to focus on agriculture, not with contempt and negativity, but with optimism. If we are to continue to produce food in the UK, we need to focus on working with farmers to make farming sustainable, cost-effective, and most importantly with wildlife in mind.

Growing up on a farm, I have always been aware of how agriculture is heavily intertwined with the environment. My Mum and Dad have always believed in their roles as guardians for the wildlife and natural habitats that call our land home, and are dedicated to conserving and increasing biodiversity. Though it can be tough to create a balance, my Dad believes that farming, through careful management, can produce food in an economically sustainable way, whilst supporting and enhancing the natural environment. Here are some of the examples of how my family are successfully working to give nature a home on our farm.

(1) The Bridge Field

Project:

The field is a small, triangular-shaped, 3 acre field, bordered by hedges and a river. It was taken on in 2014 with some other land, and is less ideal for agricultural use due to its shape and often being wet. Hence, it has been left untouched, apart from one late cut of haylage each year and dock management. This year my parents decided to begin the process of restoring the land, with the aim of giving it back to nature.

So far:

  • At the beginning of the year, we bought in and planted 219 native tree and shrub saplings of 9 species, including Goat Willow and Rowan. The hope is to create a rich and valuable habitat for wildlife.
  • We began managing the grass in the field, which is mainly Yorkshire Fog, to increase species composition. The grass has formed a dense stand across the field and is currently excluding nearly all other species.

Next aims:

  • See how the trees and shrubs grow on
  • Plant natural wildflower species using plugs, bulbs and seeds
  • Create a water source, such as a pond

07_05_20_Farm_Bridge_Field_Trees_2

(2) The Chalk Mound

Project:

Towards the centre of our land you can find a small triangular area of land that is bordered by hedges and a track. My parents took on this area with some other land in 2014, but it was not anything special. In 2017, my Dad decided to use it to make a small piece of chalk habitat, in our clay area, acting as a perfect stopover location between chalk downland to the north and south of us.

So far:

  • We bought in 40 tonnes of quarried chalk and shaped it into a mound which is 10m by 3m, and 2m in height.
  • We planted a selection of plant plugs and seeds gifted to us, ranging from Quaking Grass and Kidney Vetch to Rough Hawkbit and Lady’s Bedstraw.
  • For the first year, the mound was regularly watered as the plant plugs and seeds became established, but after that they were left to grow on, with minimal management.

Next aims:

  • Continue to enjoy the now thriving habitat that is attracting lots of insects, from butterflies to bees
  • Boost numbers of certain species such as Wild Thyme
  • Complete autumn management of the encroaching Yorkshire Fog grass at the mound’s edges

(3) Wildflower Verges and Rough Areas

Project:

As part of managing our land, my Dad leaves areas and verges uncut and able to thrive, providing valuable habitat for wildlife. One of my Dad’s inspirations for doing this is to provide rough grassland habitat for his favourite bird, the Barn Owl. Barn Owls use such areas to hunt, as it provides cover for their rodent prey. It is also great habitat for other species, such as the majestic Brown Hare.

Different forms so far:

  • Fenced off areas to keep livestock out but allow wildlife in.
  • Verges and strips left to grow up and increase in species diversity.
  • Wildflower verges planted to provide food for different species at different times of year.
  • Field margins created, maintained and protected, meaning a field is never worked up to the hedgerows.

Next aims:

  • Allow areas to continue to increase in diversity and composition
  • Continue to create a mosaic of habitats on the land

(4) Trees and Woodlands

Project:

I am a huge fan of trees, and my family are no different. Throughout our land you will find lots of different species, such as Ash, Alder, Wild Cherry and Oaks, varying in size, shape, and age. They play very important and varying roles in the landscape, from singular trees in fields and hedgerows, to the many growing in copses and woodlands around the farm. We now want to continue to preserve them and increase their numbers.

So far:

  • Over many years, we have been planting more trees wherever we can, with this year’s main project being the Bridge Field.
  • We continue to look after and manage the small woodland areas on our land.
  • We are putting up lots of different nest boxes around the farm, from small Tit boxes to larger Owl boxes.

Next aims:

  • Put up more nest boxes, including Little Owl and Kestrel
  • Monitor nest box use each year
  • Allow trees, such as mature Oaks, to naturally age and return to the ground

(5) Hedgerows

Project:

On my family’s land there are a lot of hedgerows, which are a hugely important habitat for a whole host of wildlife. They range in age and composition, including species such as Spindle, Blackthorn, Ash and Dog Rose. They also provide different services, such as food and shelter, throughout the course of a year, for lots of different species.

So far:

  • We carefully manage hedgerows with wildlife in mind each year.
  • Hedgecutting is practiced on a rotational basis and in late winter if the ground holds up. They are only cut by my Dad or brother who are skilled at cutting the hedges correctly and with care.
  • We annually manage and maintain field margins and ditches.
  • Hedgelaying has been used in the past but only when a hedge is in need of restoration.

Next Aims:

  • Maintain the high standard of hedgerows
  • Allow diversity to continue to increase

Future Aims

With 41% of species in decline since 1970, biodiversity loss and the latest State of Nature report cannot be overlooked. Whilst there is still hope that we can bring things back from the brink, and reverse the decline, to do so we need to act now. We need to create more homes for wildlife, protect what is left of our natural environment, and manage land with wildlife in mind.

On the farm this process is in full swing and gaining momentum each year. In this way, we are trying to make our land more wildlife friendly, managing and creating habitats for wildlife. Now, Skylarks can be heard singing all around the farm each morning, Brown Hares are increasing in number, Butterfly and Moths are becoming more species diverse, and Yellowhammers are becoming increasingly common. There are so many more examples from the big to the small, from Hedgehogs to Newts, but my Dad’s favourite has to be his Barn Owls. Over the last few years Barn Owls have made our land their regular home, with 2 Barn Owl pairs successfully breeding last year!

My Dad now wants to continue my Mum’s and his work dedicated to the environment, from helping farmland birds to reducing our carbon footprint. He wants to continue to show how conservation and increasing biodiversity can go hand in hand with conventional farming, allowing food to be produced whilst looking after the environment. A great example of this is the RSPB’s Hope Farm in Cambridgeshire, an arable farm where careful and targeted management is now having results. It makes me optimistic that if we now focus on working with farmers to give nature a home on their farms in the right way, then this could make a real difference to reversing species decline in the future.

30 Days Wild 2020: My Wild Month

I have always lived a wild life. For this I have my family to thank, being raised in the middle of the beautiful Dorset countryside, immersed in everything Mother Nature has to offer. It has been my playground, my classroom, my escape, and my counsellor. It is a part of who I am. This is why I am so passionate to protect and conserve our natural world, and why I now make it my mission to share all it has to offer with the rest of the world.

So when I heard about 30 Days Wild, I just had to get involved! The month-long challenge aims to bring people closer to nature, get people learning and exploring, and make a positive difference for wildlife in the UK. This year I made it my goal to spread the word, and before the month started, I began blogging about the challenge in the hope of inspiring others to also get involved (check out How to… Get involved in the June 30 Days Wild challenge). The response was amazing!

Once June was under way, I also made 30 Days Wild a focus of each and every day for the whole of the month. I got to try some new things, learn some new knowledge, help some worthy causes, share with others about nature and wildlife, and most importantly, I got to explore and spend valuable time out in nature. I enjoyed every minute, so join me now as I take a look back at how wild my month of June really was!

Wall Chart

30 Days Wild – June 2020

Day 1 – Monday 1st (Work):

For the very first day of my 30 Days Wild, I started with a bang, showing my support for my local Wildlife Trust by becoming a member. By joining Dorset Wildlife Trust, I have joined 25,000 other members helping to conserve and safeguard wildlife in Dorset and on my doorstep. I look forward to now doing my bit!

Day 2 – Tuesday 2nd (Work):

For my second day, I was faced again with the challenge of completing a Random Act of Wildness alongside a busy day at work. I achieved this though, by taking a break in the evening to watch a wild webcam in the form of BBC Springwatch’s live nest cams. It was amazing to get a different perspective of the nests, such as being right inside a Jackdaw’s nest!

Day 2

Day 3 – Wednesday 3rd (Day off):

On my first day off during the challenge, I was able to go for a long walk out in nature, seeing what I could discover on my way. Despite it being a rainy day, the wildlife did not disappoint, with lots of different birds and insects making their presence felt, from families of Long-Tailed Tits to chattering Magpies.

Day 4 – Thursday 4th (Day off):

With another day off work, I decided to combine taking in nature with another of my passions, horse riding. On a hack with my next door neighbour’s mare Marsha, I got to get some really great views of the beautiful countryside near where I live, combined with views of some great bird species, such as my favourites, the birds of prey.

Day 5 – Friday 5th (Work):

Over the last couple of months I have tried to regularly upload a new post to this blog every Friday. To combine 30 Days Wild with my recent How to… series, on this day I uploaded a piece about making a home for wildlife, and in particular a hotel for bees. To do this post, I got to make my very own hotel, which was very rewarding, so if you would like to make your own, why not check out my easy guide: How to… Make Your Own Bee Hotel

Day 5

Day 6 – Saturday 6th (Day off):

I love growing my own fruit and vegetables, and then being able to pick and eat them! So I was happy on this day off, that I got the pleasure of picking my family’s first gooseberry crop, though it took a while after to top and tail all of them! I also spent time listening to my bird songs and calls CD to do some revision before going out for a walk to test my knowledge. I now love being able to instinctively know when I can hear certain species, such as a Blackcap or Yellowhammer singing in the landscape!

Day 6

Day 7 – Sunday 7th (Work):

I spent the whole of my Sunday making a note of the species that I came across as I went about my usual day before, during and after work. I was able to realise just how lucky I am to work outside and spend so much time out in nature everyday!

I also spent the evening catching up on Springwatch with the company of one of my house cats!

Day 8 – Monday 8th (Work):

During my 30 Days Wild, I wanted to donate to a wildlife cause. I decided that one cause I wanted to support was the Marine Turtle Conservation Project, which without funding would not be able to continue their important work. It was also well timed as the 8th of June was World Oceans Day!

I as well finished my day excitingly helping with Barn Owl nest box checks in my local area, now that I am fully licensed. This included the Barn Owl box on my family’s own farm and it is definitely looking positive for them this year!

Day 9 – Tuesday 9th (Work):

On this day, I was lucky enough to go out hacking on horseback whilst at work, and rode through some really spectacular countryside. It was one very busy day at work, so when I got home I also relaxed with some wild reading, including a great fictional book by zoologist Delia Owens called Where The Crawdads Sing. Her imagery of the North Carolina marshland is absolutely stunning!

Day 9

Day 10 – Wednesday 10th (Day off):

For my day off, I wanted to spend time really taking in the natural world around me and exploring the finer details. In this way, I got to see some incredible things from a hunting Sparrowhawk and Digger Bee nests to strong smelling Honeysuckle and mating Yellow Shell Moths. There is just so much to see if you give yourself the time to take it all in!

Day 10

Day 11 – Thursday 11th (Day off):

The day before during my walks, I had collected some Barn Owl pellets from beneath two nest sites, a tree and a nest box, on my family’s land. I then spent the next day soaking the pellets and teasing them apart to see what they held inside. From the nest box site, there was Field Vole, Mouse and Common Shrew bones, whereas from the tree site there was Field and Bank Vole, Common and Pygmy Shrew, and Brown Rat.

I also spent some time identifying plants that I had seen out and about, including learning to identify a Male Fern that my cat was very interested in helping me with!

Day 11

Day 12 – Friday 12th (Work):

This Friday, I once again combined 30 Days Wild with my recent How to… series, uploading a post on making small changes to your own life to help our planet. For example, walking and cycling more, thinking before you buy, and cutting your water usage. If you want to get inspired yourself, check out my post: How to… Help the planet one small step at a time.

I also spent some time on this rainy day, appreciating the beauty of the falling rain.

Day 12

Day 13 – Saturday 13th (Day off):

I spent my Saturday wild and busy. My activities ranged from identifying pollinators to organising equipment ahead of the autumn bird ringing season. I am always happiest doing something but doing something outside is even better!

Day 14 – Sunday 14th (Work):

There is nothing more valuable than your own parents passing down their knowledge to you, and with mine it is no different. I have my Mum to thank for the foundations of all my wildlife knowledge today, from bird song to plant species. This year my Mum has been teaching me about chalkland species, using the chalk mound my Mum and Dad have created themselves on our farmland. It has been so enjoyable listening to my Mum as she IDs and teaches me each and every species on the ridge!

Day 15 – Monday 15th (Work):

The ever-changing sky is a source of wonder and life. I took time over the course of a whole day, appreciating it and watching it change, from cloud watching with white fluffy and dark rain clouds to an unexpectedly beautiful sunset!

Day 16 – Tuesday 16th (Work):

One of the acitivities I definitely wanted to do during 30 Days Wild, was to make my own bird food, taking me back to my childhood. I kept it simple with lard and bird seed, and packed the food into different shaped recycled containers for some variation. I then left it in the fridge overnight with the aim of testing it the very next day!

Day 16

Day 17 – Wednesday 17th (Day off):

I began my day off by putting out my homemade bird food in the garden. Unfortunately it was a bit hot, and the food kept melting off its strings! It was a hit with the local fledged Starling chicks though, and eventually disappeared within 48 hours.

I also took my mum and dad to my bird ringing trainer’s private nature reserve for a a different walk. It is such a lovely place to be, and gave us all some inspiration of how we can make more homes for wildlife on our own land. To finish the day, I helped pick some of the fruit growing in my family’s garden, my favourites being the strawberries!

Day 17

Day 18 – Thursday 18th (Day off) :

People who read my blog will know that I love the woods! It’s a place I go to when I want a break from the world or just to watch the seasons change in a place where it’s at its most noticeable. So as part of my 30 Days Wild, I headed into the woods for a spot of forest bathing and a refresher. The day’s rain did not even stop me!

Day 18

Day 19 – Friday 19th (Work):

Due to my love of spring and wildlife photography, for this Friday on my blog, I uploaded a post about my favourite photos from spring 2020. It was great to reflect on my own spring and to look back on some great moments, making it easily one of my favourite posts so far this year! If you want to take a look, check out my Spring 2020: In Photos

I also headed out into my family’s land after work, to revisit a favourite camera trapping spot from this spring. Once there, I set up my camera trap again, and looked forward to seeing what I might catch this time around.

Day 19

Day 20 – Saturday 20th (Work):

After work, I signed up to the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch, which is currently free for everyone to take part, and allows me to upload what I see in my garden at home every week. I also took time out to focus on my mental health, and completed a wild guided meditation, lying on the grass in my garden. I picked this particular meditation as it incorporates taking in the sounds around you, such as the sounds of nature. It was so surreal for me to relax outside and then reopen my eyes to see lots and lots of baby starlings looking back at me!

Day 20

Day 21 – Sunday 21st (Day off):

As it was Father’s Day, for my Sunday off, I got to spend lots of time with my dad. This included two walks also with my mum, where we tried to see what nature had to offer us, which included birds of prey and wonderful Skylarks. To top off an active day, I also pulled on my trainers for the first time in a couple of weeks, due to an injury, and went for a run through the countryside around my home. I just cannot get enough of being outdoors!

Day 21

Day 22 – Monday 22nd (Work):

For my Monday, I completed two different Random Acts of Wildness. Firstly, I began writing down all the birds I saw in my garden during the day as part of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch.

I then made a donation to charity. I may not have a lot of money, but at times like these I realise how lucky and fortunate I am in life. So when I saw another great cause, I had to get involved and donate!

Two years ago, during my Master’s in Conservation and Biodiversity, I got the opportunity to go on a field course to Kenya, with a lot of organisation from Adventure Upgrade Safaris. They even got me a cake for my birthday! Now without tourism, the company are struggling and without our support, they will not be able to continue for the future. They need our help to survive!

Day 22

Day 23 – Tuesday 23rd (Work):

This day was an exciting day for me! It was the day that, after work, I got to retrieve my camera trap that I had put out last Friday!

Though I had previously captured my best camera trap photo this year in this location (a fox cub), I did not know what to expect this time around. My camera trap did not disappoint though, and the photos included those of the fox cub I had previously seen, a rabbit and some really great photos of some badgers!

Day 24 – Wednesday 24th (Day off):

On a day when I really needed it, I got to spend my day off doing some things I love. My bird ringing group starts the autumn migration ringing season on the 1st of August and so to start my Wednesday, I helped with some of the preparation for the season. For example, we completed an important but often overlooked job, re-dying our mist nets with a special dye mix.

I also excitingly spent some of my day ringing Kestrel chicks and, now that I am fully licensed, helped with Barn Owl nest box checks. This led to me also getting to ring Barn Owl chicks and getting some great views of some Little Owls!

Day 24

Day 25 – Thursday 25th (Day off):

Another activity I really wanted to do during my 30 Days Wild, was to do some wild baking. I decided on making some simple vanilla cupcakes and decorating them with minibeasts in different colours.

My time spent baking was not without some drama though, as I ended up modelling icing during an afternoon of over 30 degrees heat! Despite this, I soldiered on through runny icing, with the much needed help of my mum, and had some great fun, whilst making some yummy cakes topped with interesting and colourful creatures!

Day 25

Day 26 – Friday 26th (Work):

For my last Friday of 30 Days Wild, I uploaded to my blog another brand new post. This time my post followed on from last Friday’s spring upload, and focussed on how spring unfolded this year. If you want to have a read about how my extra special spring actually turned out this year, check out my Spring 2020: How It Happened.

Day 26

Day 27 – Saturday 27th (Day off):

This day was another day of relaxing in nature. This included watching and recording the birds in my garden, going for a long horse ride through the Dorset countryside, and exploring the flowers growing in my garden and on my currently ‘no mow’ lawn.

Day 27

Day 28 – Sunday 28th (Work):

With it being especially rainy during my day at work, I made it my priority to spend my lunch break outdoors during a break in the weather. It was a much needed refresher! Also, having completed my first week of the BTO’s Garden BirdWatch yesterday, I spent my evening uploading my results to their website. It was exciting to see how the week actually went!

Day 28

Day 29 – Monday 29th (Work):

I spent this Monday rushed off of my feet at work. To keep my brain relaxed though, I came up with the plan of spending my day attempting to noticing the wildlife around me and seeing if I could find a species for each letter of the alphabet. I had a very successful day of it, alongside being very productive at work, leading to only one species missing (the letter X)!

The response to me completing this activity was absolutely amazing on Twitter. It gave me a real sense of joy to see everyone’s support, so thank you everyone!

Day 30 – Tuesday 30th (Work):

Today was the last day of June and the final day of 30 Days Wild. However much I would have liked to have finished with a bang, it would not have fit my true and busy day. Instead, today was a day of appreciating and being grateful for the natural world around me. This may be in the form of what I encountered on my travels or seen out of my window, or by taking in other people’s experiences such as through books and on twitter. I treasured them all!

Day 30

My Highlights

This June has been a wild rollercoaster which I have absolutely loved! Spending time focussing on nature each and every day has enriched my days, relaxed me, and allowed me to connect further with the wild world around me. If I had to pick some highlights, these would include my wild alphabet becoming popular on Twitter, making wild cupcakes with my mum, expanding my knowledge of plants, ringing my first Kestrel and Barn Owl chicks, and sharing my 30 Days Wild on social media.

I have learnt and experienced so much this past month, and I am now inspired to continue making the natural world an important part of each and every day, and to share my passion with as many people as I possibly can. I hope that if you participated in this year’s challenge, that you also had a great month. Otherwise here’s to next year’s 30 Days Wild!

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Kingston Lacy’s Spectacular Snowdrops

‘We all want quiet. We all want beauty… We all need space. Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently’ (Octavia Hill, 1883, Co-founder of the National Trust)

One brisk, but sunny day at the beginning of February, I found myself surrounded by carpets of brilliant white. Looking closer, I could see thousands of delicate flowers, nodding in the breeze like flurries of snow, shaped like bells or little fairy skirts. Here the effervescent snowdrops become a real spectacle at this time of year, shouting loud that the brighter days of spring are on their way.

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With my parents by my side, I had decided to spend my day off exploring Kingston Lacy, a beautiful National Trust estate famous for its incredible annual snowdrop displays. I was really looking forward to this trip, after a long spell of being very busy with work and other projects. It was a time for me to just pause and take a breather in a really breathtaking location.

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We began our day out by passing through the heart of Kingston Lacy, passing by the old stable block, and heading out onto the estate’s approximately 4.7 kilometre woodland trail, made up of established footpaths and historic carriageways. Our start wound us first through a stretch of native deciduous woodland, an area of currently skeletal trees alive with early birdsong.

Habituated to the presence of visitors walking through, we got some really great close-up views of the residents, including red-breasted robins and serenading song thrushes.

The woodland was also sprinkled with human touches here and there, from benches made from old tree trunks to archways of woven hazel. A lovely stretch to hide away from the world, at least for a little while!

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We did not just pass through woodland though. Our journey also took us past Blandford lodge near the entrance to Kingston Lacy, across boardwalks over marshland, and through rolling parkland, dotted with trees varying magnificently in size, species, age and skeletal form. It is quite incredible to think what some of those trees will have lived through in the history of this estate!

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As well, our path took us past the magnificent Kingston Lacy house, a ‘family home reimagined as a Venetian palace’. Though the estate dates back to the medieval times, the first form of the current house was completed in 1667. It went on to be the home of the Bankes family for over 300 years, before being bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981. Though on this February day we did not venture into the house, it is well worth a visit, with the rooms decorated like pieces of art and treasures ranging from ancient Egypt to the Spanish Peninsular War.

As the hours drew on and the sun made its way across the winter sky, our path took us back past the old stables and in the direction of Kingston Lacy’s gradens. Here today’s real magic was to be found. We finally made our way into a world where snowdrops created carpets of snow around us. Stretching along avenues of pollarded trees, across woodland glades, around winding bends, and even nestled within the impressive Japanese gardens.

The pearly white of snowdrops was made bolder by the pinks of cyclamens, purples of irises and crocuses, and cream and maroon of helibores.  Seeing something small on such a scale, over 6 million to be precise, is a sight to behold. First planted in the early 1900s, with now over 40 different species, Kingston Lacy’s snowdrops will be a legacy for future generations to come.

Kingston Lacy is such a lovely place to escape for those of us who like history, nature or just getting outdoors. Throughout the year they have a range of different events, from their snowdrop walks and Easter egg hunts to summer outdoor yoga and outdoor theatre/cinema that will keep you coming back time and time again, as i have over the last couple of months. For now here’s to the snowdrops, the promising pioneers of the new season to come. Pure, hopeful and the symbol of rebirth, snowdrops are the delicate, effervescent heralds of spring.

Golden days of autumn

As we ease into the holiday season and creep closer to the closing of the year, it is time to contemplate and reflect, be thankful for what we have, and celebrate what is important to you. Looking outwards during this time, to the world beyond the window, autumn has now also made its departure. Skeletal trees, howling gales, freezing temperatures, and dormancy characterise the landscape, though there are hidden gems to be found. As you cuddle up in your home on this cold winter’s evening, let us now remember back to those golden days of autumn.

Autumn as it happened

When I think of autumn, the first thoughts that come to mind are dazzling colours, falling leaves collecting in drifts on the ground, bountiful fruit, and migrant birds passing through. Though my favourite season tends to be blossoming spring, autumn is a time that is often the favourite of many. Each season has something special to offer and autumn is no different!

This year autumn has been a bit more unpredictable and turbulent in its advancement than many other years, being the 5th wettest english autumn since records began. Despite this, it has mainly progressed in the traditional fashion.

September saw evening temperatures drop, the start of misty mornings with spider webs shining with dew, ripening fruit and nuts, grey squirrels beginning to cache food, the emergence of the first autumn fungi, and the start of birds moving through.

October saw the trees beginning to change, becoming decked out in resplendent colour, fungi in abundance, the buzz of late insects such as wasps and honeybees, goldfinches harvesting seeds from thistles and teasels, fallen acorns becoming available as a valuable food source, the squawks of jays collecting nuts, and by the end of the month most migrants had moved on.

As the season of decline and decay moved on also, November saw oak trees in colour, other trees losing their leaves on mass, cackling fieldfare in the hedgerows, withering bracken, plentiful ripe seeds and fruit, redwings making their return, wildfowl and wading birds settling in for winter, thrushes and blackbirds harvesting fruit, winter flocks forming as they scavenge in bushes and along hedgerows, and lengthening nights.

By the end of November, most of the trees and hedgerows were bare of leaves, conditions were cooler, frost and fog were more common in the mornings, and winter was on its way.

A day in the woods

As part of my celebration of autumn this year, I made a visit to my favourite local woods. On this October trip, I spent time being mindful, capturing the world around me through words and through a lens.

‘As I step into the woods, it is noticeable how the vegetation is beginning to die away, though the ferns still stand sentinel over the woodland floor. Looking closer though, fungi is dotted everwhere. Small capped mushrooms stand only a couple of centimetres tall, whilst larger and more exquisite shapes stand taller and hang from the trunks of trees.

A nuthatch lands on a branch above my head. I look up and see that autumn is already in full swing, with the trees working at different paces, creating a spectacular mosaic of colour from fading greens to copper and gold. The trees are beginning to lose their magnificent mantels in spectacular style. Berries adorn holly and hawthorn bushes, shining scarlet in the strained autumn light.

My other senses are also stimulated. To my nose, the forest smells fresh, though with every step the woodland floor releases an aroma of damp decay and rotting vegetation. On my exposed skin, a gentle cool breeze plays, whilst midges crawl and bite.

My ears are most active though. Long-tailed tits flit from tree to tree around me, making high-pitched calls as they feed as a family, characteristic of autumn. Robins and tits also sing their songs in the trees around, before a wren sounds its alarm call and the other birds join in. Further away, still in the forest, pheasants fight, a collared dove coos, and a jay caws its raucous call as it goes about its way, storing food for winter. Outside of the wood, I can also hear farm sounds along with crows and rooks cawing.

Though the buzz of woodland life is beginning to slow, decay and slip away, the landscape is still full of life.’

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The science of autumn

Why do leaves change colour?

  • This process is triggered by changing day length and is sped up by increased sunlight and cooler temperatures. It occurs when pigments, such as chlorophyll, is broken down, and then transported back into the branch. The colour is produced by the remaining degraded pigments in the leaf. Different amounts of pigment left in leaves creates the different colours.

Why do birds migrate?

  • Birds migrate from areas of low or decreasing resources, such as food, to areas of high or increasing resources. It can be triggered by factors such as changes in day length, temperature, or is simply a genetic predisposition. Migration can vary from short within-country movement to long-distance migration. It is still not fully understood how birds navigate during migration, but suggestions include using landmarks or an inbuilt magnetic compass.

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How do mammals survive the winter?

  • A variety of adaptations are used during the winter by different mammal species. They grow longer, thicker coats. increase food intake to produce fat reserves, and create underground nests where they can sleep through colder days. Mammals that find it difficult to cope during the winter, such as those that eat mainly insects, instead slow their body processes down nearly to a stand still to survive. This is called hibernation with common examples being seen in hedgehogs, bats and dormice.

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The end of autumn’s glory

This year’s autumn has been fantastically colourful trees and woodlands, incredible wildlife displays and cliche autumnal moments.

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One of my highlights has to be experiencing some of the more interesting migrants that rock up on the British shores during autumn. For me these included wacky wrynecks and marvellous marsh warblers giving some exciting moments.

Now autumn 2019 has come and gone in a blaze of glory, though it was a little wet at times!

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40 years of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch: How can you get involved?

Next weekend the RSPB is holding its annual Big Garden Birdwatch. Many people may have heard of this event before and may have even participated in it (if so thank you), but many people may have never heard of it before though. Either way, with the event celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the Birdwatch’s interesting history, wide-ranging impact and more importantly how you could get involved this year to help make it the biggest year yet!

For those of you who may not know, the RSPB (standing for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) was founded in 1889 by ornithologist Emily Williamson with the aim of stopping birds being exploited for fashion. Over the following 130 years, the RSPB has grown in size and popularity, and among other things, has acquired at least 209 nature reserves, raised lots of money for conservation projects and created many popular events such as the annual Big Garden Birdwatch. Following its start as an event aimed at children in 1979 in collaboration with Blue Peter, the Birdwatch has now been running for an amazing 40 years, with the hope of many more years to come.

With over half a million people taking part each year now, the Big Garden Birdwatch has officially become the world’s largest wildlife survey. Clocking up over 8 million watch hours and more than 130 million bird sightings, the survey has amassed four decades worth of valuable results for the RSPB. What happens each year to these results though? Well once collated into one big data set they are analysed to monitor trends, and allow us to understand the state of British wildlife such as to identify species declines, and to help protect and conserve it.

To give you an idea of some of the basic results the Birdwatch can provide, lets take a look back at some of last year’s results published by the RSPB. To start, the top 10 garden birds in the UK and Northern Ireland in 2018 were found to be:

2018 big garden birdwatch results

(c) RSPB

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blue tit
  4. Blackbird
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch (11% rise from 2017)
  7. Great tit
  8. Robin
  9. Long-tailed tit
  10. Chaffinch

The 2018 survey also showed big increases from the past year in the number of sightings of winter visitors, such as siskins and bramblings, and a 5% increase in greenfinch sightings. Despite house sparrows being the most commonly seen species in our gardens in 2018, since its beginning, the Big Garden Birdwatch has seen house sparrow sightings drop year on year, with a 57% decline over 40 years.

In relation to the survey itself though, since 1979 participants have increased in number from approximately 34,000 children to more than half a million individuals of all ages. Whatever your experience or knowledge of birds and wildlife, this is one event where anyone can now get involved. In addition to helping out the RSPB, this survey could also have wide ranging benefits for yourself too. For example it could:

  • Allow you to take a moment to appreciate what is in your garden or local green space
  • Aid your mental health by spending time out in nature and/or being mindful of your local wildlife
  • Allow you to get involved in citizen science where your involvement could have a big difference for scientific knowledge and species conservation
  • It is a bit of fun!

So, if you are interested in the world’s largest wildlife survey, how could you get involved? First, go to the ‘Bird Garden Birdwatch 2019’ section of the RSPB website and either request a free postal pack, download a counting form and bird ID guide or decide to complete the Birdwatch online. Then pick a day between 26th-28th January to sit and watch the birds in your garden or local green space. Follow the rules for counting the birds, and when your hour is complete either send your results to the RSPB by post or online. How you do your Birdwatch though is entirely up to you. It’s simple!

 

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As a result, the Big Garden Birdwatch has now helped to inspire many new generations of birdwatchers and I can say that I am included among them. This was evident at the age of 12, when I decided to write a piece for my local magazine trying to get more people (even then) involved in the Birdwatch. Though my knowledge, writing and understanding of the world has come a long way over the last 11 years, my passion for wildlife, its conservation and its communication have remained the same. So why not listen to 12 year old Laura, do the same as me, and take part in this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch!

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This blog post has been written independently from the RSPB, but all RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch resources and facts used in this blog post, such as seen in the photos of the resources included in the postal pack I received, are entirely the property of the RSPB

 

A different kind of Christmas: December trip to RSPB Arne

For most people Christmas outings may involve activities such as shopping, ice-skating, visiting Santa or taking in Christmas light displays. This year to get into the festive spirit though, I decided to do something a little bit different. Why? Well this month is a great time to get outside in the cold (and the wet!) and take in some of the winter residents and migrants that can currently be found in the UK. What better way to escape at this time of year than to get out in nature!

My choice of destination was simple: RSPB Arne nature reserve in Dorset. This reserve covers more than 565 hectares, has many designations such as being a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is home to a mosaic of habitat types ranging from heath to ancient oak woodland. As a result RSPB Arne is famous to British naturalists for its rich biodiversity and spectacles of nature, which include the colourful ladybird spider (as featured on Autumnwatch in 2016) and all 6 UK species of native reptile. Situated approximately 25 miles away from my home, this gem for the wildlife enthusiast is becoming a firm favourite of mine.

Well what was the real aim of my visit this Christmas? Though birds of prey such as marsh and hen harriers are always at the top of my ‘must-see’ list, I have to admit that December is THE time to see waders at Arne. In fact, neighbouring Poole Harbour hosts one of the largest flocks of wintering avocet in the UK, which is a real spectacle to see.

So, with the weather on my side for one day in mid-December, I made the journey over to the the isle of Purbeck for a day of no pressure bird watching and walks with spectacular views. Having visited Arne a handful of times before, I started my day by setting out on Arne’s seasonal raptor walk in the slim hope that I might catch sight of a wintering harrier or falcon. Though it did result in a kestrel being added to the day’s species list, it was my only raptor sighting of the day in the end.

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The seasonal raptor walk was not fruitless though, as sitting in the reed bed hide at the end of the walk I was treated to my very first sighting of a highly charismatic bird. Despite having seen flashes of this bird in the past, I had never seen it up close and perched before. So it took me by surprise when I caught sight of the shape of this small bird with its distinctive short tail, large head, and long bill only a couple of metres in front of me in the hide. To my excitement it was a kingfisher and following this sighting I had the pleasure of watching it hunt in the pools of the reed bed for quite awhile longer!

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Following seeing my kingfisher, the rest of the day was spent walking the Coombe Heath trail and yellow Shipstal trail to catch sightings of waders around Middlebere Lake and Arne bay.

To highlight some of the species I ended up seeing on my walks, here’s a little ’12 waders and waterfowl of Christmas’:

  1. Mallard
  2. Little egret
  3. Common shelduck
  4. Eurasian oystercatcher
  5. Brent geese
  6. Common redshank
  7. Lapwing
  8. Eurasian wigeon
  9. Pied avocet
  10. Common greenshank
  11. Eurasian curlew
  12. Eurasian spoonbill

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At the end of my day exploring Arne in the dry and escaping a busy life, I have to admit that it was just what I needed during the festive period. Filled with wintering wildlife and tranquil landscapes, ‘traditional Christmas’ only permeated my outing through visits to the reserve’s cafe and shop, which were both fully embracing the festive season.

Though my day at Arne may not characterise most people’s festive period, it fitted with the meaning of my own Christmas, made up of things that I cherish such as family, nature and focussing on my own mental wellbeing. Taking an opportunity to concentrate on and celebrate such things is what defines Christmas to me, amongst modern traditions. So all I can say now is remember what means most to you at this time of year and have a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Winter into spring: April on the farm

April is one of my favourite months of the year on the farm. During April, the Dorset countryside begins to burst into new life. Newborn lambs bounce in the fields, newborn calves snooze in the fields in the spring sunshine, birds begin to nest and raise a new generation, and flowers carpet the woodlands.

Plants this April still followed a trend of being late, with some woodlands not becoming decked out in their full splendour during this month like in past years. Still Bluebells, wild garlic, early purple orchids and late wood anemones began to coat the woodland floor. Also, the woodland ferns began to unfurl in the woods later than usual.

During this April, trees were very much still late, with sycamore and silver birch finally bursting into leaf. Oaks were noticeably asynchronous in their bud burst, with some trees on there way to being in full leaf and others yet to start.

April saw the main crop of migrants arriving on warm winds. This year our barn swallows returned on April 6th, exactly the same date as in 2015! By the time we were fully into April, bird breeding pairs had been firmly established, and the nesting season for many bird species was fully under way. During April, more birds can be heard singing at dawn than any other time of year, which is quite magical to hear.

This year the tawny owls are breeding later than last year, but by the end of April the first hissing calls of tawny owl fledglings could be heard resonating through Dorset woodlands.

Life could be seen blooming everywhere throughout April. Dog violets and cowslips, among other species, were seen flowering along roadside banks.

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Brimstone butterflies, orange tip butterflies, and peacock butterflies all began to emerge during the first half of April.

Throughout April, I made myself busy amongst the mounds university revision, by setting up my camera trap at different popular sites around our farmland. It was amazing to see the first badger cubs emerge from their den, and even more special to me, was being able to watch fox cubs beginning to explore above ground with their siblings, during the second half of the month. Fox cubs have to be my highlight of beautiful April!