The first days of spring
The first days of spring always remind me of being little. My grandparents once lived in an ancient woodland between Hampshire and Sussex, and each spring the trees would swell with new life. We would dangle on rope swings and eat lunch outside, while birds would sing and nest all day long in the canopy above.
Spring at Center Parcs
Spring was also the season for our family visits to Center Parcs. I remember sitting by the back door of our lodge, watching a flock of ducklings paddle about. Twenty years later, my sister now has a daughter of her own and we have rekindled our annual trips to Center Parcs. The place is still full of happiness – the sound of nuthatches in the trees as we whizz along on our cycles, the warmth of the rapids under the stars, and the satisfaction of a belly full of pancakes.
And there, floating in the pond behind our lodge, are ducklings. A new generation ready to meet my niece, Meredith. She is learning about the cycles of nature, the arrival of new life and the seasonal magic of growth and decay. There is nothing so reassuring as feeling the earth wake up after its long winter sleep, when the frost thaws and leaves begin to unfurl. We wander through the forest together, listening to woodpeckers and other woodland birds who come alive in the bright, fresh days after winter.
Nature springs to life
The dawn chorus is one of nature’s most powerful and captivating spectacles at this time of year. Deep within the mottled canopy of a silver birch, velvety notes begin to float through the air. For a few moments a male blackbird has the stage to himself. But soon he is joined by the bold melodies of the wren and robin, the wheezing greenfinch, pat-a-cake song thrush, whistling starling, dunnock, goldfinch and sparrow, until the air is ablaze with the beautiful chaos of birdsong chiming through the forest like a thousand silver bells.
They time their breeding to coincide with the warmest part of the year, when food is plentiful and any eggs laid will have a greater chance of survival. It’s the perfect time to spot garden birds like long-tailed tits, who look like black-and-white lollipops with their round bodies, and chaffinches with their peachy-red chests. Closer to the ground, look out for bluebells, lesser celandines, wild garlic, primroses, snowdrops and daffodils. These early spring wildflowers provide nectar for the butterflies and bumblebees who have hibernated over winter. Elsewhere, fox cubs are born in March and will start exploring above ground from April onwards, while Britain’s only three hibernating mammals – bats, hedgehogs and dormice – will all have woken up to embrace the warmer weather.
Tiffany Francis-Baker is a nature writer, poet and illustrator from the South Downs. She was one of Forestry England’s writers-in-residence for 2019 and her third book Dark Skies (Bloomsbury) is out now.