As I write in Early March, frog tadpoles have hatched out in our Uckfield garden pond, the hazel catkins are nearly over and the tree’s tiny maroon flowers will be generating hazel nuts. Hawthorn and elder are breaking forth into leaf and eventually white pearlesque blossom. Among the birds, the robin and blackbird females are carefully building nests in our hedgerows. Celandines have been flowering for some time, but now look out for the pink flowers of ladies smock, also known as milkmaids and cuckoo flower (Latin Cardamine pratensis) a type of cress. These will grow in any exposed damp wayside ditch or bank and adorns the roundabout at Little Horsted in most years.
Spring can be a very personal season as we emerge into longer, brighter days, warmer weather and an awakening of the countryside. It is good to spend time just watching the changes, as nothing stays the same for long in spring. Look and watch the different types of tree bursting into leaf. Understorey species like the ones mentioned above are leafing first to ‘catch the rays’ before the larger ones such as oak, ash and horse chestnut steal their light with their canopy. Listen also, for the singing of the blackbird, robin, wren, song and mistle thrushes, great and blue tit, chaffinch, chiffchaff and eventually cuckoo. They and others will be celebrating the rise of spring with both a dawn and evening chorus. Smell also the fragrance of the wood anemones, bluebells carpeting our ancient woodlands in April and May and eventually honeysuckle or woodbine and wild roses adorning our hedgerows.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So, every damp space on the planet Earth’s soil’s surface will be colonised by something. Usually, first algae, bacteria and fungi, then moss, grass and broadleaved herbs also known as forbs. Some of the latter are vigorous and grow large like nettles brambles and hogweed. But, beneath these, acorns, haws, beech nuts and horse chestnuts will germinate, protected by these herbaceous bullies, then with autumn the herbs die back, tree seedlings are revealed and continue to put on height and eventually outgrow the herbs, shade them out and form a woodland habitat. This is called succession and will always happen without intervention by humans. In short, in every grassland there is a woodland trying to get out!
Dr. Martyn Stenning