Updated: Jun 13
March brings us the season of spring, yet the weather can still be very cold and wintry, even bringing snow. The frogs and toads continue to lay their spawn in ponds across the country. Great crested newts are also active which move from hibernation towards water. They prefer larger ponds or lakes with no fish or waterfowl.
Last month, we started to see a few insects emerging such as the Brimstone butterfly which demonstrated the importance of early flowers such as snowdrops and lesser celandine. Now, with warmer weather and more flowers, we see species such as Peacock, Red Admiral, Comma & Small Tortoiseshell.
Sallow blossom (pussy willow) attracts a variety of moths at night & by day some solitary bee & hoverfly species specialise in this plant as well as more generalist species such as bumblebees & Honey Bees.
We will also start to see the first arrival of Chiffchaff , Sand Martins, Little Ringed Plover & Wheatear towards end of month if conditions suitable. Young Herons in nest.
Early flowers are often found in woodland because they need to get light before the leaves appear on the trees. This includes such as Coltsfoot, dog violets, Wood Anemone and Wild Daffodils. To view wild daffs in London, travel to Lesnes Abbey in Abbey Wood where they were likely planted by monks several centuries ago.
Below are details of a few species to look out for:
Hedgehog - Erinaceus europaeus
Scientific name: Erinaceus europaeus
As their name suggests, animals forage around hedges and undergrowth on the look out for insects, worms, centipedes, snails, beetles, mice, birds eggs and frogs.
Although their eyesight is poor, they have good hearing and a well-developed sense of smell. Hedgehogs are good runners, proficient climbers and can even swim. They can be found across a wide range of rural and urban habitats, although they are absent from moors, coniferous plantations and wetlands
If attacked they roll into a tight ball, exposing their spines to fend off predators. Many hedgehogs are killed unintentionally by humans: on the road, with lawnmowers, garden chemicals and bonfires.
Among their predators are foxes, badgers. Pine martins, weasels, stoats and rats sometimes harm young hedgehogs and in addition, females must guard against during this period are other male hedgehogs, which will sometimes prey upon the young of their species
In the UK, there has been a dramatic decline in recent years. Approximately one third of the national population has been lost since 2000 in both rural and urban habitats. The hedgehog is legally protected from trapping or intentional harm, but none of the legislation deals with the drivers of the decline.
Later in March and during April, as the weather improves Hedgehogs start to emerge as their fat reserves run low, having lost around 1/3 of their body weight
As a result, they need our help and this is a perfect time to start thinking about supplementary food and water as they will be extremely thirsty and hungry.
Put a shallow dish of water out and some meaty cat or dog food or cat biscuits as this will really help. A feeding station can be created using a plastic box with a hedgehog sized hole cut into it (13x13cm).
Blue tit - Cyanistes caeruleus
Scientific name: Cyanistes caeruleus
The bluetit is a small, blue, yellow, white and green bird. They are really birds of deciduous woodland, but also use parkland and gardens, making them one of the most common garden birds.
Blue tit (haiku) Wintry song echoes Spring's green birth aroused From yellow and blue
- Svetoslav Ivanov
In winter, family flocks join up with other tits as they search for food.
They eat insects, caterpillars, seeds and nuts. A garden with four or five blue tits at a feeder at any one time may be feeding 20 or more. When spotting them in woodland, they can often be seen hunting among smaller branches and leaves of trees feeding on insects and spiders.
Blue tits (and others) start nest building in March, nesting in holes in trees while also happy to use nest boxes. However, they need caterpillars to feed their developing chicks. Gardens provide very little invertebrate food compared with that available in woodland. However, the food that we provide at our feeding stations can be important for them.
Oak trees are a favourite haunt of nesting blue tits due to the caterpillars of winter moths that lay their eggs in oak trees. They will hunt caterpillars in other species of tree within their territory, particularly if the caterpillar hatch is sparse or the oak trees.
They time the hatching of their eggs to coincide with the hatching of the moths’ eggs.
Studies have shown that the blue crown on their heads glows brightly under UV light. The brightness of the feathers is thought to provide a variety of signals; for instance, male blue tits have been shown to choose females with brightly coloured crowns as they make fitter mothers.
Sallows - Salix
Scientific name: Salix sp.
Sallow is the name given to certain species of willow: Great Sallow, Florist’s Willow, Goat Sallow, Osier, Palm Willow, Sally and Catkins. Male and female flowers are found on separate trees. The males are known as the pussy willow catkins. They can come into flower from late February but March is probably the best month. A good sized tree can have flowers open over several weeks, lasting into April.
These are wonderful plants as the early blossoms makes for an important source of nectar and pollen for all sorts of insects such a flies, butterflies. They also attract moths at night. Some hoverfly species specialise in this plant as well as more generalist species such as bumblebees and honey bees.
The fluffy yellow catkins are the male flowers and very pollen rich. The female flowers are green and spiky.
The male flowers attract lots of female and worker bees as they collect the protein-rich pollen to rear their young on. Male bees visit for the sugary nectar that gives them energy to fly around searching for a mate. (Female bees also drink nectar for energy).
Hairy footed bumblebee - Anthophora plumipes
Scientific name: Anthophora plumipes
This species is one of the first solitary, mining bees to emerge in spring from late Feb to March. They are often confused for small bumblebees. The males emerge first and the females appear a couple of weeks later.
They are an important pollinator for early spring flowers, particularly lungworts (Pulmonariaspecies), but also primrose, comfrey and dead-nettles.
They are found in, parks, gardens, and woodlands. Nests tend to be shallow hollows in soft mortar, cob walls, exposed vertical soil profiles and occasionally in the ground in compact clay soils.
Nesting in soft mortar means they might have nested around the chimney stack and can be found in houses when they accidentally fall down the chimney.
As per their name, they do indeed have hind legs that are covered with feathery hairs right down to their tiny feet.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria), White dead-nettles (Lamium album) and Iberian comfrey (Symphytum ibericum), which can flower as early as March, will attract hairy-footed flower bees to your garden. Plant in large clumps in sun.
Common dandelion - Taraxacum officinale
Scientific name: Taraxacum officinale
Dandelions are the poster child of weed killer the world over but they are sadly demonised when they are really an important early source of food for pollinators. They are bright yellow discs of tightly packed florets. Leave are jagged toothed leaves. When the seeds are formed, they are fluffy white.
The common dandelion is actually a variety of forms or 'microspecies' so identification can be tricky.
They help bees, butterflies and birds and your lawn. Hoverflies, beetles and butterflies all rely on dandelions for food. They are perennial and have a long tap root. As a result, they are very common in disturbed habitats such as pastures, roadside verges, lawns, tracks, paths and waste ground and as such, are known as coloniser species, preparing the ground for other plants.
The dandelion is promoted as a diuretic, and for a variety of conditions, including infections and digestive symptoms. As a food, dandelion is used as a salad green and in soups, wine, and teas. The roasted root is used as a coffee substitute.
Gardens are vital for wildlife with the UK's gardens provide more space for nature than all the National Nature Reserves put together. We must keep areas wilder in our gardens and use chemicals as little as possible. Weed killer is a serious poison, containing glyphosate.
People who breathed in spray mist from products felt irritation. They also negatively impact biodiversity with devastating effects on wildlife and their habitats. Pollinator populations, such as bees and butterflies, are particularly vulnerable as the chemicals can destroy or reduce the availability of their food sources. Herbicides can be detrimental to terrestrial wildlife by decreasing cover availability and food availability.
This monthly series aims to highlight several species you can look out for. The aims will be to focus on teaching a little about them as well as showing the interconnections: the importance of habitat and how interactions with other plants and animals can be vital for survival - demonstrating that nothing can exist in isolation.
Sources below (some sources can be found in links to photos).
Hairy footed bumblebee