A few shoots here, or tree buds there…
Spring is the time of year when many of us start to feel optimistic and hopeful about good weather, flourishing plants, and getting out and about a bit more than we could over winter. Out in the countryside, the first signs of spring are often quite difficult to spot – a few shoots here, or tree buds there. Unless you look very closely, it can still feel like winter well into March.
However, when the more overt plants start to flower, it can be a delight to stumble across them after a winter of bare landscapes – snowdrops, daffodils, blackthorn blossom, primroses, and pussy willow buds are all out quite early in the season, often while there’s still snow on the ground!
A time of renewed activity
In the animal kingdom, you may be hearing the birds a lot more than you have in previous weeks. They gather at dawn and dusk to sing loudly, trying to attract mates. Can you spot robins, blackbirds, thrushes, or blue tits singing their hearts out from the trees?
Some of our summer visitors such as blackcaps and sand martins begin to return to the UK from March. In the fields, you might spot game birds such as pheasants and partridges a bit more frequently, along with rabbits and the ‘mad’ march hares, sparring as part of their courtship rituals. Insects, bats, and hedgehogs are emerging from hibernation and are very hungry, so will be spending their time searching for food.
Butterflies will be on the wing once the temperature reaches 13C, with overwinter hibernators some of the first to be seen. Can you spot the small tortoiseshell, magnificent peacock, or the unmistakeably bright brimstone?
Rural communities have celebrated the coming of spring for centuries. The pre-Christian festival of Imbolc (now also known as St. Brigid’s Day) on February 1st marked the start of the lambing season, and farming communities would make up a bed and leave out food for Brigid in the hope she would look after their ewes and ensure healthy lambs.
Today, the farming calendar remains much the same, with many farmers staying up all night with their ewes through February and March as they begin to lamb. You might start to see big piles of manure appearing at the sides of farmers’ fields, in preparation for spreading in March and April, preparing the fields for planting later in spring.
At Easter, many of us will be heading out into the countryside for a ramble over the long weekend, but there’s no time off for farmers. Cows will begin calving, and the farmer must ensure each is chipped and identifiable, while the younger lambs will need to be closely watched as they’re in danger from predators such as foxes.
Typically, country parish churches will be preparing their Easter sermons, and perhaps some activities for the children, such as bonnet-making or egg-painting. Eggs and rabbits, two of our pervasive symbols of spring, call back to pagan spring festivals, when they were used as symbols of birth and fertility.
Historically, celebrations of spring were most prominently held on May Day. Although the origins of these celebrations date back to ‘Floralia’ festivals of the Roman Empire, many events persist to this day across the UK, especially in rural villages and towns, such as the tree dressing ceremony at Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire.
The fun might include parades, maypole dancing, crowning of a May King and Queen, and lighting bonfires. These rituals were traditionally designed to encourage the growth and protection of the cattle sent out to summer pasture, and today’s farmers will indeed be turning their livestock out from the fields which will be cultivated for silage. In the West Midlands, the practice of ‘well-dressing’, where the village spring or well is adorned with flowers, has spread from Derbyshire across Staffordshire and into Shropshire, and often takes place in late spring to give thanks for clean water.
By late spring, we’ll be seeing the ground and trees bursting with the blossom which would traditionally be used as part of these May-time celebrations. Apple, hawthorn, bluebells, and stitchwort will be difficult to miss. Places such as Evesham in Worcestershire and the villages around Pembridge, Herefordshire, are well-known for their blossoming fruit trees, and even offer signposted trails to view the trees at their best. Recently, it has become more common to see bright yellow fields of cultivated rapeseed as part of the seasonal flowers. They typically flower before summer, and you know they’re nearby from their unmistakeable smell!
What will you be celebrating this springtime?
Are you looking forward to seeing the plants and animals emerge after a long winter? Will you be taking part in Easter, May Day, or other celebrations? Why not head over to our ‘Prompts’ page to read some poems on the subject of ‘Celebrating Spring’, and see if our prompts inspire you to get writing?