Our top spots for signs of spring
The gardens and countryside we look after are full of opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the colour and vibrancy of spring. Listen to birds chirping and bees buzzing, see hares ‘boxing’ and the first lambs and smell the scents of spring blooms and wild garlic.
‘Spring is my favourite time of year,’ says our nature specialist Matthew Oates. ‘It’s a living miracle played out over several heady weeks and offers new thrills each day. Join in by looking out for a new sign of spring each day, from the first rookery to the last bluebell.’
We’ve chosen some of our favourite signs of spring and the best places to spot them:
The variety of flowers on offer in spring is irresistible for bees and they rely heavily on flower nectar in the early part of the season. Spot bumble bees, honey bees and wild ‘solitary’ bees buzzing amongst gardens, meadows and wildflowers and it’s a giveaway that spring has arrived.
Top spot for bees: Hinton Ampner, Hampshire
There have been honey bee hives at Hinton Ampner for over a hundred years and traditional honey production continues to this day. Bees are exceptional pollinators and are also kept at Hinton Ampner to maintain the biodiversity of the gardens.
After the long winter, migrating birds return from milder climates to spend summer in the UK. Spot chiffchaffs from mid-March, swallows and house martins from mid-April and swifts in late April or early May.
Top spot for birdsong: Crom, County Fermanagh
One of Ireland’s most important nature conservation areas, you can watch winter birdlife depart and migrants arrive from the south at Crom from the bird hide on the shores of Derrymacrow Lough. The hide is equipped with binoculars, identification guides and notebooks to record what you see.
Spring is the perfect time to venture into orchards to admire blossoming apple trees and see ornamental cherries in bloom. One of nature’s show-stoppers, blossom creates a magical affect as it falls like snow onto the ground.
Top spot for blossom: Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire
The Brockhampton Estate is home to 25 acres of Shropshire Prune damson trees. From mid-April to early May the orchards surrounding the medieval manor house come into flower and bloom with beautiful white blossom, making it one of the best times of year to visit.
You can also see blossom at Acorn Bank in Cumbria, Cotehele and Lanhydrock in Cornwall, Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion, Sizergh in Cumbria, Sissinghurst Castle Garden in Kent and Beningbrough Hall, Gallery & Gardens in North Yorkshire.
Over half of the world’s population of bluebells can be found in the UK and delightful carpets of blue cover woodlands when spring is at its peak between mid-April and mid-May. The common bluebell is a protected species in the UK.
Top spot for bluebells: Allen Banks and Staward Gorge, Northumberland
One of the largest areas of ancient woodland in Northumberland, Allen Banks is well known for its bluebells. There are miles of waymarked paths to follow to see these beautiful wildflowers and hear the peaceful trickling of the River Allen in the background.
You can also see bluebells on the Blickling Estate in Norfolk and Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire and at Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire, Lanhydrock in Cornwall, The Vyne in Hampshire, Sheffield Park and Garden in East Sussex and Dunham Massey in Cheshire.
The daffodil is Britain’s quintessential spring flower, found blooming from February through to May. These bright bulbs burst into life in gardens and woods heralding the arrival of spring as they spread across the country.
Top spot for daffodils: Cotehele, Cornwall
An impressive 250 varieties of daffodils and narcissi flower at Cotehele each year including many old and rare varieties. The different varieties flower at different times and the best of the colour is likely to be from mid-March through to the end of April.
You can see more garden daffodils at Dora’s Field, Grasmere, Kingston Lacy in Dorset, The Vyne in Hampshire, Nymans in West Sussex and Dunham Massey in Cheshire. For wild daffodils visit Fishpool Valley at Croft Castle in Herefordshire, Watersmeet in Devon and Teign Valley Woods at Castle Drogo in Devon.
One of the great sights of spring is the so-called ‘mad March hare’. These usually shy and reclusive creatures can be spotted ‘boxing’ in open fields throughout the mating season. Rather than competition between males, this behaviour is actually females fending off unwanted males.
Top spot for hares: Lyme Park, Cheshire
The open spaces of Lyme Park are perfect hare-spotting territory during early spring. You can head up to The Cage, a hill-top hunting lodge with great views across the park, to see them ‘boxing’ and racing and chasing one another.
You can also see hares at Stourhead in Wiltshire, on the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire and on the Yorkshire Coast. Mountain hares can be spotted on Marsden Moor in West Yorkshire and on the Dark Peak moors in Derbyshire. The Irish hare can be spotted at Divis and the Black Mountain in County Down.
New-born lambs are a great family favourite, emerging on unsteady legs at farms across the country. Lambs are one of the first and most eagerly awaited signs of spring so set out on a family walk and see how many you can find.
Top spot for lambs: Wimpole Estate, Cambridgeshire
A working estate still guided by the seasons, Wimpole brims with new life in spring as lambing season arrives. With a substantial collection of rare breeds, Home Farm sees the arrival of approximately 300 new-born lambs each year which can be seen on regular lambing days.
These goblet or star-shaped flowers found on garden trees or shrubs are much admired spring icons, and for good reason. Their colours range from pure white to deepest purple and they fill the spring air with a gorgeous scent. Flowering begins in early spring and lasts until late summer/early autumn.
Top spot for magnolias: Bodnant Garden, Conwy
Bodnant Garden is famous for its collections of plants from all around the world and among them are more than 500 magnolias. They thrive in the sheltered areas of the shrub borders and the dell and the towering Magnolia campbellii on the Croquet Terrace now has its head well above the wall.
One of the earliest and finest signs of spring is a rook with nest building material held in its beak. You can spot colonies of rooks – known as rookeries – in the tree tops across Britain, with eggs appearing around early March.
Top spot for rooks: Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire
Visitors who make the climb up the 149 steps to the top of Tattershall Castle’s keep can not only enjoy spectacular views of the local Lincolnshire countryside but also look down into the nests belonging to the castle’s colony of rooks below.
Wild garlic grows abundantly in spring in moist ground such as woodlands and is easily recognisable by its broad leaves, sweet pungent smell and starry white flowers. It is also known as bear's garlic, ramsons, gipsy onion and wild leek.
Top spot for wild garlic: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
Wild garlic scents the air in the woodland around the magnificent ruins of Fountains Abbey throughout March and April. You’ll also find it on the menu in the Fountains Restaurant within seasonally-inspired dishes.