Where to have a fling with spring

Some of the finest wildlife trusts and nature reserves in the world are right here on our doorstep. But where to start? The experts offer their suggestions...

Natural England

North Meadow NNR [National Nature Reserve], Wiltshire

The meadow's impressive display of snake's head fritillaries appears in spring, along with bright-yellow clusters of marsh marigold and the pink of cuckoo flower. If you look closely, you will see the diminutive adder's tongue fern and the first early marsh-orchids.

Kingley Vale NNR, Chichester

You can see brimstone, orange tip, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, painted lady, peacock, common blue and holly blue butterflies on a sunny day. There's also the yaffling of green woodpeckers and the display flights of mating buzzards. If lucky, you may glimpse a red kite soaring above the yew forest or fallow deer, just starting to develop their summer coats, browsing among the trees.

Dole Wood, Lincolnshire

Dole Wood has an annual open day on 26 April. It has a magnificent display of bluebells, wood anemones, yellow archangel and wild garlic. The open day runs from 10am to 4pm; the public are welcome to walk on the paths in the wood and there are guided walks and children's activities.

Moor House – Upper Teesdale NNR, Co Durham/Cumbria

This wonderful reserve in the North Pennines comes to life in spring; the skies full of wading birds swooping and calling in aerobatic displays. Lapwings and curlews are all displaying like mad, redshanks and oystercatchers are back too. Snipe are "drumming" and skylarks singing. All can be heard and seen from a network of pathways. Natural England is holding special black-grouse watching events on 18 and 25 April to see these spectacular chicken-sized birds strutting their stuff.

Lindisfarne NNR, Northumberland

The ancient monuments of historic Holy Island are the perfect backdrop for a spring trip. A few stragglers from the huge flocks of waterfowl that spend the winter here may still be found around Holy Island or at Budle Bay, or can be seen heading off on migration to breeding grounds in the Arctic. A few grebes, divers and sea duck linger off-shore and transform into colourful breeding plumage. Holy Island is a magnet for returning migrants from the south, and in the right conditions its hedges and dunes can be full of exciting birds. A great place to see the first wheatears, sand martins or Sandwich terns of spring.

Lea & Pagets Wood, Herefordshire

One of Herefordshire's most accessible, semi-natural, ancient woodland sites. In April, carpets of spring flowers such as bluebells, wood anemones, primrose, ramsons, rare early purple orchids, even rarer herb paris, yellow archangel and more. A fantastic range of ancient woodland shrub and canopy species with coppiced hazel, red currant, hawthorn, maple, oak, lime, ash, a rare mature elm, veteran wild cherry and yew.

Wyre Forest NNR, Worcestershire

One of the best concentrations of spring-emergent daytime flying moths and butterflies in England – a good chance of seeing rare pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies, especially along the main public thoroughfare and from rights of way in meadows near to Lodge Hill Farm. Spring is a great time to experience the sights and sounds of ancient woodland, such as native spring flowers (wild daffodils, bluebells, wood anemones, primrose, ramsoms), nesting birds (warblers, pied flycatchers, woodpeckers, cuckoos) and invertebrates (wood ants, spiders, day flying moths).

www.naturalengland.org.uk

Forestry Commission

Ennerdale, Cumbria

With a backdrop of a wild river and mountains, the valley here is one of the most tranquil places in England – but in early April, a new sound can be heard as cuckoos herald the arrival of spring.

Westonbirt, Gloucestershire

The National Arboretum should be really beautiful by Easter – full of azaleas, rhododendrons (below), magnolias, the first cherry blossom, and wild flowers.

Idless woods, Cornwall

This area, near Truro in Cornwall, is a sheltered and tranquil woodland that runs along the side of the valley down to the river Allen. A wonderful site for bluebells during the spring. On 10 May, the Commission is running a Bluebell Ramble.

New Forest, Hampshire

From April, the Forestry Commission, RSPB, New Forest National Park Authority and Carnyx Wild are offering New Forest visitors an insight into some elusive and awe-inspiring birds of prey living and breeding on the forest estate. Using cutting-edge "raptorcam" technology, live footage will be beamed from secret forest nests to the New Forest Reptile Centre, near Lyndhurst. Visit in April to see a goshawk pair nest-build and lay eggs, ready for hatching in May.

www.forestry.gov.uk

RSPB

North

Witness the elegant courtship "sky-dance" of male harriers (across Scotland), and take binoculars on the Firth of Forth seabird cruise, which runs until 17 July.

The Scottish island of Mull is home to spectacular white-tailed eagles, Britain's largest bird of prey, while the mellow hum of bumblebees echoes on a wild flower meadow at Vane Farm in Kinross.

Seabird colonies are wonderful all around the coastline, but the 200,000-plus at Bempton, East Yorkshire make it the best.

South and central

See bluebells, wood anemones and primroses in full bloom at Garston Wood, Dorset; and pretty little noctural nightjars churring at Arne, Dorset, and Aylesbeare, Devon.

Head to Chichester Cathedral to see peregrines in an "urban" setting, and to Hartsholme Country Park, Lincolnshire, and Northwood Hills in the London suburbs to see herons nesting.

East

Dragonflies and butterflies can be seen on the Norfolk Broads, while little terns pair on the beach at Great Yarmouth, and there's myriad birdsong at Lakenheath, Suffolk – hear reed, sedge and willow warblers, bearded tits, golden orioles, cuckoo, turtle doves (above right) and more.

At dawn and dusk you can hear nightjars at Minsmere and North Warren in Suffolk, and across East Anglia, this is the time to hear male bitterns booming as the breeding season gets under way.

West

The RSPB has a special osprey-watching project at Glaslyn that gives a chance to observe the only breeding pair in Wales. The seabird centre on Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland is a wonderful place to watch colonies in action. Cardiff clock tower, like Chichester cathedral, has urban peregrines in residence. And red kites can be seen over the M40 between Oxford and London.

www.rspb.org.uk

Wildlife Trusts

Ospreys

In April, ospreys arrive back after their epic 3,000 mile migration from tropical west Africa. A pair can be seen nesting at the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust's Lyndon reserve (above right). Scottish Wildlife Trust's reserve at Loch of the Lowes is also home to a familiar osprey pair, which return to nest every March.

Frogs and toads

One spectacular highlight of spring is a gathering of amphibians, the glassy eyes of frogs glistening above the surface of a pond, and pools teeming with tadpoles. They can be seen at the Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham and Camley Street Natural Park in Camden.

Peregrine falcons

The Scottish Wildlife Trust's Falls of Clyde reserve is the closest you can get to a breeding pair of peregrine in the wild – the visitor hide is 50 metres from the nest site. Peregrine have returned here for 12 years, producing 27 chicks, which hatch in May.

Black-headed gulls

Gulls make a true spectacle at breeding colonies. They can be seen at Summer Leys in Northamptonshire.

Orchid meadows

Orchids start to bloom in the spring, bringing myriad colours to the landscape. A wide variety of species occur at Noar Hill Nature Reserve, Hampshire, and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Wild garlic

Spring brings startling spreads of white, star-shaped wild garlic blooms. These can be seen at Harston Wood, Staffordshire.

Budding trees

Among many budding trees, the pussy willow is particularly stunning in London Wildlife Trust reserve Sydenham Hill Woods in south London.

Blackthorn

The snowy-white blossoms of blackthorn are a joy to behold. Devon Wildlife Trust reserve Dart Valley has some stunning sweeps of blossom on the slopes below Mel Tor.

Marsh harriers

Marsh harriers perform a dancing display in spring, where the males fly very high and then do spectacular tumbling dives to impress the females below. This can be seen at Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves Cley Marshes, Hickling Broad and Upton Broad and Marshes.

Lapwings

Lapwings displaying over grazing marshes really is a wonderful sight. Cley Marshes in the early morning is a good place to catch this.

www.wildlifetrusts.org

Woodland Trust

Ashenbank Wood, Kent

Ashenbank Wood ancient woodland is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Its striking features are the numerous veteran trees, pollards and open glades. Well known for its prolific shows of bluebell and wood anemone, due to the numerous veteran trees and wind-blown trees left from the 1987 storm, it also contains a high amount of deadwood habitat, which supports a varied population of invertebrates, fungi and bats.

Burroughs Wood, Leicestershire

In spring, this wood hosts seas of wild flowers and an amazing range of biodiversity including butterflies, bees and other insects, all of which adds to the public enjoyment of the site.

Brede High Woods, East Sussex

There's plenty to see at this site within the High Weald AONB. Containing 10 wonderful ancient woods, it has extensive areas of hornbeam and sweet chestnut coppice. The woods contain a great variety of habitats, including open heathland, coppice, ghyll woodland, wet woodland, sphagnum beds, small ponds, springs, streams and acid grassland, perfect for seeing all sorts of plants and wildlife. The site is also well known for its invertebrates. It is the only known UK location for the flea beetle, previously thought to be extinct. The acid grassland also has a population of glow worm. Other important species include great crested newt, brook lamprey, dormouse, badgers and fallow deer.

Coed Cefn, Powys, Wales

Coed Cefn is an ancient woodland site with an amazing Iron Age hill fort. The woodland floor is dominated by bluebells and brambles, hazel, hawthorn, birch, holly and elder. It is well known for its carpets of bluebells in the spring.

Sisland Carr, Norfolk

There are large areas of dense bluebells situated within the broadleaf areas, and small isolated pockets of dog's mercury and townhall clock, which follow the course of an old, now disappeared, hedgerow.

Letah Wood, Northumberland

North of the burn on the south-facing slopes are abundant native wild daffodils, wild garlic, great woodrush, dog's mercury, lesser celandine and wood sorrel, all of which look and smell wonderful. There are also patches of northern lights.

Glen Finglas 'Brig o' Turk', Stirling, Scotland

Brig o' Turk sits within the 4,085-hectare Glen Finglas site in the Trossachs, on the southern edge of the Highlands. It is renowned for its mountain, loch and woodland scenery and ground flora, including bluebells. The ancient woodland is classified as SSSI and a Special Area for Conservation.

Bunkers Hill, Staffordshire

Bunkers Hill (left) has a wonderful range of rides and paths across the site, as well as a number of open glades and grassland, which provide a haven for many interesting, plants, flowers and butterflies. Great for a spring walk with the family.

Carnmoney Hill, Newtownabbey, Northern Ireland

This hilltop site has a volcanic cap, limestone and flint slopes and adjoining mudstones at the coastal belt below. This gives rise to a rich flora typical of base-rich (alkali) woodlands and meadows. Species included in the rich diversity of flora include early purple orchids, swathes of wood anemone and wood sorrel, with bluebells and primrose in the old hedges and dog violets (left) in the bracken fields above the wood. There are wonderful views from all aspects of the hill.

www.wt-woods.org.uk

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