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New spring leaves

Seven signs

that spring has arrived!

Toads on roads, leaves on trees, and the first sightings of butterflies and bees. We take a look at seven signs of spring.

With the recent cold weather, including snow, wind, and rain, it's been hard to believe that spring officially began on 20 March. But things are warming up now and there are plenty of signs that spring is in the air. Here are seven things to look out for which prove that winter is over!

Toads on the road

Toads on roads

Take care driving along quiet country lanes at dusk – there may be a toad crossing the road. Toads are on a mission during spring – to get back to their ancestral ponds to breed. These journeys are often long and dangerous, as the warty amphibians travel across fields, roads and gardens. The migrations can sometimes consist of huge numbers of toads on the move, doggedly determined to pass all obstacles and covering distances of up to a mile. Many don't make it, sadly falling victim to road traffic. In some areas, special road signs warn drivers to watch out for these toads. There are also toad patrols – groups of volunteers who head out at night, with torches, to help toads safely across the road. Visit the Froglife website to find your nearest patrol.

Cowslips

Wild flowers

Primroses and cowslips should be in flower and can be spotted in grass verges, at the foot of hedgerows and on woodland floors. A walk in the woods will often offer the wonderful sight and smell of swathes of bluebells – a sure sign that spring has arrived. Wild garlic can be seen in woodland areas too. It carpets shady corners – and when the white star-shaped flowers appear in May, you'll often smell this plant before you see it. Wild garlic can be used in the kitchen as a mild-flavoured substitute for garlic cloves – try our recipe for wild garlic and cheese scones.

Wild garlic

Hedgerow blossoms

Blackthorn is usually the first blossom to appear, turning hedgerows white and frothy. Hawthorn – or May blossom – blooms a little later, giving rise to the old saying 'Ne'er cast a clout till May be out', meaning the weather isn't warm enough to go out without your coat until the May blossom is in flower. To tell blackthorn and hawthorn apart, take a closer look at the branches: blackthorn flowers emerge before the leaves do, whereas hawthorn's branches are already full of leaves before the blossoms bloom. Apple blossom will appear towards the end of April too, and is a much-loved source of nectar for bumblebees.

Robin in blossom

New leaves

Deciduous trees lose their leaves in autumn and winter, with new leaves growing back each spring. As trees gradually begin to grow leaves during spring, landscapes are transformed from brown and yellow to fresh, bright green. Horse chestnut trees are one of the first species to grow new leaves, beginning in mid march, with rowans, silver birch and sycamores close behind them. Oak and beech trees are a little later, in early April, and ash trees are usually the last trees to grow new leaves, with branches often still bare in late April.

Oak leaves

First butterflies

On warm spring days the first bees and butterflies emerge from hibernation – the first butterflies to appear are often small tortoiseshells, peacocks and commas. Growing lots of nectar-rich, spring-flowering plants is a good way to make sure these lovely insects have food – and if you grow a wide range of pollinator-friendly plants, you'll attract more butterflies to your garden. Good nectar-rich plants for the garden, that flower in spring, include hebes, red valerian and perennial wallflowers – especially Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'. Also consider allowing a patch of nettles to grow in your garden, as they are a good food source for caterpillars.

Comma butterfly

Dawn chorus

The dawn chorus peaks in May and can be heard from March onwards. At dawn the sound can be deafening, as male birds stake out territories. Although it can sound chaotic and cacophonous, there is a strict order in which the different species sing – so it's a great time to become familiar with the different bird songs. Dunnocks and robins are usually the first out of bed – they start to sing about an hour before sunrise, so to hear them you'll have to be up early too. It's well worth getting up for though – the melodious call of the robin is one of the most beautiful and musical bird songs. Next to take a turn at singing are blackbirds and thrushes, then it's the turn of chaffinches and wood pigeons, with wrens, tits and warblers providing the grand finale as the sun rises. Check out our guide to the dawn chorus – with sound for identifying the different bird calls!

Blue tit in blossom

Summer birds

As winter visiting birds such as redwings and fieldfares depart, the first summer migrants begin to arrive. Chiffchaffs return to woodland areas – they are hard to spot but have a distinctive, monotonous two-note call. Swallows and house martins (pictured above) usually arrive some time during April and can be seen carrying out spectacular aerodynamic displays over fields and waterways as they search for insects to eat. Swifts arrive a little later, and are easy to distinguish because of their scythe-like wings, high circling flight and high-pitched screaming call. Also keep an ear out for cuckoos – hearing their unmistakable call is a sure sign that spring has arrived.

House martin

For more signs of spring – and tracking natural events through all the seasons – take a look at The Woodland Trust's citizen science project, Nature's Calendar. The Woodland Trust has records dating back to 1736, so this is the longest data set of its kind. You can join in by submitting your observations – from the first snowdrops you see in January, to spotting frogspawn in your garden pond. This will help scientists to build a picture of what is happening to UK wildlife, and how it is being affected by climate change.


With thanks to Vine House Farm for the bird photos. If you want to attract more birds to your garden, check out their fantastic range of bird seed – grown on a conservation award-winning farm.

Seven signs that spring has arrived

Little Green Space April 2018