Whilst frosty mornings are still very much in prospect and heavy showers quite a seasonal theme; the noticeably longer days of April give the sun a much greater opportunity to work its magic on the landscape. This can be particularly apparent where its rays bathe the floor of woodlands with warmth and light for a few glorious weeks before the emerging leaf buds transform the bare branches into a dense canopy that will soon cast the ground into heavy shade once more.
Having lain dormant for months, the seemingly lifeless ground quickly transforms into a natural canvas upon which a succession of woodland wild flowers work their magic. This natural art installation builds slowly with the emergence of delicate snowdrops before primroses, daffodils and celandines add a real splash of colour.
Whilst not as showy as some rivals, the star of early spring is, for me, the wood anemone. Whilst quite unassuming in solo form, its delicate white flowers combine en-masse to create dramatic drifts. On arrival at Eaton Wood, one of the Trust’s finest ancient woodlands some years ago I spotted what I thought was the result of a late season snow flurry carpeting the ground. On closer inspection I realised that it was in fact the best display of wood anemone I’d ever witnessed at the reserve.
Carpets of wood anemone (Anemonoides nemorosa), especially when found in the company of species such as dog’s mercury or yellow archangel, can be an indicator of potentially ancient woodland. Where found growing in hedge bottoms or along shaded banks, they can be a clue to woodlands lost. These delicate blooms, just a couple of centimetres across, combine to carpet the woodland floor and brighten any early spring woodland walk, lingering as long as May. The drooping habit on cloudy days gave rise to folk tales of fairies sheltering from raindrops beneath the blooms. Brighter days however will see the flowers turn imperceptibly to track the sun on its daily progress east to west.
As the first flushes of primroses and anemone fade, the lush leaves of the iconic bluebell are already pushing through, promising to extend this woodland wild flower spectacle through April into May. As well as bringing joy to wildlife watchers, weary after the winter months, wood anemones and fellow early spring flowers which thrive in the relative sheltered warmth of woodlands, provide vital early nectar for insects including early hoverflies, which repay the flowers’ generosity with pollination.
Details of how you can help protect and restore ancient woodlands in Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s care, as well as details of where and when to visit can be found at www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org.
Main image: Bluebell at Gamston Wood, Michael Walker