From the middle of April woodlands around the Cotswolds will burst into life with a fabulous blue haze of bluebells. The bluebell season is starting already with a faint mist of blue appearing under trees in many of our woodlands. I took this photo last weekend.
There are many locations within reach of Daisy Chain, but two of the best are Badbury Clump near Highworth and West Wood near Marlborough.
There was once an Iron Age Hill Fort at the top of Badbury Woods which was probably built and occupied from around 600BC. It would mainly have been used for storage and would have housed round huts and grain storage pounds. Much of the evidence of a fort has been lost through years of ploughing. In Spring and early Summer, Badbury Clump is very popular as its beech woods team up with bluebells for a spectacular display. A 6.5 mile circular walk starting at Badbury Hill, including the Great Barn at Great Coxwell can be found on the Faringdon website. Have a taste of the Bluebells at Badbury hill in this video.
West Woods in near Marlborough is a large plantation of beech trees on a site of an ancient woodland. West Woods has fantastic displays of bluebells in late spring and a good network of trails allow easy access. It is very popular with walkers and photographers alike.
The bluebell season is a short but spectacular one and there are so many beautiful woodlands to explore. Other woodlands to see bluebells in the Cotswolds include:
Aston-under-Hill Woods – which has been described as stunning with bluebells galore. Lineover Wood, Dowdeswell Lynches Wood (near Chipping Campden) Littleworth Wood, Snowshill Foxholes Nature Reserve, Bruern.
It’s starling murmuration season again (this runs from late autumn through the winter). The occurs as the local populations of starlings are boosted by their European cousins arriving to escape the harsh Scandinavian winter. A starling murmuration is an amazing sight, with huge flocks forning into an amazing acrobatic mass before roosting.
There have been huge gatherings of starlings over the lakes of the Cotswold Water Park over the last few days, with flocks in excess of 50,000 being reported. Amazing!
Nightingales are secretive birds which often hide in the middle of thick hedgerows. They arrive in April and sing until late May / early June. Once they have bred they return to north Africa between July and September.
Another hidden gem waiting to be discovered in the Cotswolds is the Pasqueflower This rare wildflower has been lost from many of the places where it used to grow, but on the Barnsley Warren Nature Reserve, just north of Cirencester it is thriving, with a population of approximately 20,000 plants.
Geoffrey Grigson, writing of the pasqueflower in ‘The Englishman’s Flora’ wrote that it has, “…a fair claim to being the most dramatically and exotically beautiful of all English plants.”
The Barnsley Warren Nature Reserve is also home to cowslips, early purple orchids and violets and has a good butterfly population. Rabbit and brown hare help to maintain the short grassland and common lizards can often be found on areas of bare scree.
It looks like being a good year for the Pasqueflower, so if you would like to see it plan to go soon…and remember to tread carefully!
One of the most easily recognisable birds on Somerford Lagoon, the lake directly in front of Daisy Chain on the Lower Mill Estate, is the Great Crested Grebe. At this time of year it is fun to watch their elaborate courtship as the rise out of the water, shaking their heads at one another. The Great Crested Grebe has to be one of the most elegant waterbirds with it’s slender neck and ornate head plumes. These plumes nearly led to its extermination from the UK as birds were hunted for their feathers. Fortunately the situation in the UK is now very different with 5300 breeding adults in the UK.
Guests at our luxury lakeside self catering property can sit on the balcony and watch this elegant bird diving – as the water is usually very clear it is even possible to watch them swimming under water as they dive for food. It’s also fun to count and see how long they stay underwater…and see if you can guess where they are going to reappear!
From mid April to the end of May the Cotswolds are home to some magnificent displays of wild flowers. The spectacle begins in North Meadow, Cricklade with a spring time display of snakeshead fritillaries of international importance. A staggering 80% of Britain’s snakeshead fritillaries grow on this 110 acre site. The meadow is open to the public and guided walks are also arranged.
The times for these as well as an accompanying walk leaflet can be found at http://www.crickladeinbloom.co.uk/cricklade_north_meadow_guided_walks.html
Just a 20 minute walk from Daisy Chain lies Clattinger Farm, a precious remnant of Britain’s ancient hay meadows. The farm is considered the finest remaining example of a typical lowland hay meadow in the UK. It has never been treated with any agricultural chemicals and is one of the finest wildflower meadows in Europe. As well as being home to snakeshead fritillaries it is also home to a range of orchids including the green-winged, early marsh and burnt orchids. The volume of orchids within the meadow has to be seen to be believed! A visit in May is a must.
More information about Clattinger Farm can be found at http://www.wiltshirewildlife.org/Reserves/clattingerfarm
Do contact us if we can help you out with somewhere to stay during your wild flower safari in the Cotswolds! We have a number of mid week breaks available in April, May and June.
With the arrival of spring, the ponds on the Lower Mill Estate Nature Reserve are beginning to burst into life. One of the first signs is frogs and toads making their way to the ponds to breed. Children love spotting large lumps of frogspawn in the ponds, which starts off with just a tiny dot in the middle of a ball of jelly. It’s great fun to watch the frogspawn developing over the following days and weeks and turning into tadpoles then froglets. And then the day comes when the froglets become frogs and make their own journey away from the pond and into the big wide world (or nature reserve as it may be!)
On the Lower Mill Estate, one of the best places to look at pondlife, and for frogspawn at this time year is at Pike’s Corner. It has a board walk that leads you to a pond with a sign showing different wildlife that can be found. As spring warms up there will be masses of damselflies and grasshoppers. Our children spend many happy hours trying to catch grasshoppers and watching them leap!
Froglife, a national wildlife conservation charity which focuses on the conservation of the UK’s amphibian and reptile species has produced a great app called ‘Dragon Finder’. You can use it to identify reptiles and amphibians as well as their eggs, larvae and calls and to report sightings. It is available for iPhone and Android. The app can be downloaded from http://www.froglife.org/dragonfinder/app/
10 years ago a complete skull of a woolly mammoth was found in a working gravel pit in Cotswold Water Park. Dr Hollingworth, a paleontologist, had visited the site to look for the remains of Ice Age mammals after discovering a bone fragment. As he walked across the gravel pit he saw a bit of bone sticking out. After a few minutes of concentrated digging he realised that he had found a complete skull. It took seven hours to carefully dig out and then four people to carry it. The skull is believed to have come from a female woolly mammoth who lived over 50,000 years ago. She would have weighed 3.5 tons and been 10 feet tall. Like all mammoths she would have travelled and lived in a group in cold dry grasslands and would have been an excellent swimmer. She would have eaten at least 400 pounds of vegetation every day! Woolly mammoths grew new sets of teeth as the old ones wore down, so during her life she would have had six sets of teeth. The skull is on display at the Gateway Visitor Centre at the entrance to Cotswold Water Park.
Around 80% of Britain’s Snakes Head Fritillaries grow at North Meadow in Cricklade. North Meadow is an area of 110 acres of ancient hay meadow which is rich in wild flowers. It lies on the flood plain between the River Thames and the River Churn and as such can often be flooded during the winter months. In early spring North Meadow comes to life with a fabulous display of wildflowers and grasses, but it is for the Snakes Head Fritillaries that it is most famous. They are usually at their prime in the second and third weeks of April. The National Nature Reserve is open to the public at all times, or you can join a guided walk. For more information visit http://www.crickladeinbloom.co.uk/cricklade_north_meadow_guided_walks.html
There have been huge gatherings of starlings over Somerford Lagoon and Farmhouse Lake on the Lower Mill Estate in the Cotswolds over the last few days, amazing guests with their fabulous displays before coming in to roost in the reed beds. This is a great article giving tips about how to photograph their antics!