Spot the early signs of spring on Denbies Hillside
The south-facing slope of Denbies Hillside is the perfect place to feel the warmth of early sunshine and see the arrival of spring. It also offers a mix of grassland and woodland that attract different species. Why not bring a picnic and use the tables in Steers Field before setting off or celebrating on your return?
Keep an eye open to spot the early wildflowers that make chalk grassland so unique. Look out for yellow cowslips, the early purple orchid and the deep blue chalk milkwort. The grazing belted Galloway cattle keep the grass short to enable rare flowers to thrive making this a haven for butterflies. Brimstones and orange tips should be the first butterflies out. Look out for them on sunny days from the end of February in sheltered spots. You might be lucky.
As the sun warms up the soil this will become alive with wildlife. In the grass at your feet lizards, slow worms and grass snake (all harmless) will begin to stir. In the areas of long grass adders also become active and by mid April the males will have shed their dull winter skin and be ready to mate. To avoid a nasty surprise do keep your dogs under tight control around these areas.
Why not take a stroll across Blatchford Down and look out for the first early dog violets and wild strawberries? You might even see a queen bumble bee, fresh from hibernation, visiting them for an energy rich breakfast.
Listen to the birds
This is the time of year when birdsong is at its most vibrant. From February resident birds will be marking their territories, finding a mate and building nests. Listen out for the lively song of our popular residents - wren, dunnock, robin, blackbird and the thrushes are all fine singers. You’ll find them around the hedges. From March the summer migrants, such as the whitethroat, and yellowhammer, will begin to arrive and you may see a green woodpecker digging for ants in the grassland.
Stroll through the trees and you’ll notice the yellow catkins of the hazel, which can emerge as early as January. If you look very closely you’ll also spot the tiny red flowers. Silver birch is another tree that produces catkins.
Look at the buds of the trees around you. Beech buds are slim and pointy. Ash trees have buds that have been described as looking like a bunch of grapes. Lime trees have delicate buds and as the sun gets warmer then the buds will break to reveal lovely bright green leaves.
On the ground keep an eye open for early wild flowers such as yellow celandines, primroses and snowdrops and as the days get warmer, possibly bluebells. Butterflies like the comma and the peacock enjoy dappled sunshine of woods and can be seen as soon as March.
Spring will surely be here when you see the Rangers working on their ‘farmers tan’. Keep a close eye out for National Trust Rangers in short sleeves basking in the spring sunshine!