Best of the British countryside in February
From starling murmurations and early songbirds to dramatic hilltop sunsets, here is selection of the month's best photos from around the British countryside in February.
Come February, winter begins to wane and the first signs of spring start to appear. Whether you're wandering among the hills and valleys of your local countryside or walking familiar routes in the city, through parks, churchyards and allotments, there is plenty to see.
From singing spring birds, gliding swans and playing otters, to sunsets from high hills and prehistoric remains, we’ve come across some spectacular photography while putting together the February 2022 issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.
Celebrate the month ahead with our gallery of beautiful photographs from around the UK in February.
Best of the British countryside in February
Sheep on the move
On The Yett, a farm in the Cheviot Hills just inside the Scottish border, hill farmer Derek Redpath gathers in his blackface sheep before the start of spring lambing. Ewes will be vaccinated and given important weight and health checks to make sure they are in top condition before their lambs arrive.
Music of the mistle thrush
One of the most evocative sounds in nature, the dawn chorus returns this month as
avian songsters, full of purpose and ambition, sing at the beginning of each day to
stake their claims on territories and mates.
The missile thrush has short, wistful, almost melancholic phrases of song from December onwards. Often sings at dusk and during rain, which gives rise to the old nickname of ‘stormcrow’.
Snowdrops of spring
A symbol of hope and purity, the first snowdrops appear in mid-January, creating blankets of nodding white blooms in woodlands and parks to cheer our winter landscapes. These harbingers of spring also contain a memory-boosting compound – galanthamine – used in medicines to help treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Shetland is rugged, its ragged, 1,679-mile coastline punctuated by breathtaking beaches, making it one of the most beautiful island groups in the UK. Burra Isle and the South Mainland have glorious white sands, as do Yell, Unst and Northmavine. The cliffs range from (arguably) the highest sea cliff in Britain, on remote Foula, to the easily accessible array at Eshaness. Stand at the edge of the immense slash in the rock called Calder’s Geo, look down and you can see the entrance to Britain’s biggest sea cave.
Castle of romance
True love blossoms on Mull for the protagonists in I Know Where I’m Going!. Young, attractive and fiercely independent social climber Joan Webster meets her unexpected catch on the isle – a heart-throb naval officer, Torquil MacNeil.
One of the greatest silver-screen love stories, I Know Where I’m Going!’s evocative cinematography captures the magic of this Scottish isle, even 75 years on. Blending comedy, romance and dark undertones, the drama begins as Joan (Wendy Hiller) embarks for the fictitious Island of Kiloran to marry an elderly and wealthy industrialist. But a storm maroons her on Mull, where she meets – and soon falls in love with – Torquil (Roger Livesey). In the end, an ancient Celtic curse binds the two together.
For the ultimate romantic break this Valentine's day, head to Duart Castle.
Calf Crag highs
The much-celebrated writer Alfred Wainwright is perhaps best-known for his seven guidebooks describing 214 fells in the Lake District, but his Coast to Coast route across northern England is a close second in the hearts of British ramblers.
The 182-mile trail traverses the width of England, from St Bees Head in the west to Robin Hood’s Bay in the east. If you’re feeling intrepid, take on the whole 182-mile pilgrimage; or, if time is scarce, simply walk a stage or two.
One of the very best legs is the delightful Rosthwaite to Grasmere section, at its quiets on a cold, February day. Crossing the Central Fells in the Lake District, this stage includes more than 700m of ascent.
Gorgeous great tit
By February, the great tit’s clean piping notes are refreshing our woodlands. The most easily recognised is the “tee-cher, tee-cher, tee-cher” two-note call.
Aerial displays in Aberystwyth
As the winter sun sets with a glower over Cardigan Bay, vast flocks of starlings swirl and pirouette over the seaside town of Aberystwyth. Having dispersed widely into the surrounding countryside to feed during the day, the birds return to the town and gather in their thousands to perform this dazzling sky dance. As night falls, they roost noisily on the cast-iron legs of the Victorian-era pier.
A more recent arrival at bird feeding stations, the goldfinch is making up for lost time. Sometimes flocks of this yellow, brown and black, red-faced bird with a delightful twittering song will descend on to feeders. Originally attracted by nyger seed, it will eat sunflower hearts and small seeds, too.
Three Cliffs Bay sundown
It’s not as if the south Gower coast is otherwise unremarkable – maritime grassland atop limestone rock, which has been scoured into beaches and bone caves, yielding to an expansive sea with Devon fizzing on the horizon – but Three Cliffs Bay is a truly special place.
Bewick's swans on the move
At 1.5m in length, this is our largest native wildfowl. The adult possesses all-white plumage with huge black feet and a black knobbly beak marked by an extensive orange tip. It is among our favourite British birds and for this reason it thrives almost everywhere, from the Outer Hebrides to inner London, and occupies any habitat with open water, including coastal harbours.
Despite the bird’s popularity and partly because of its confiding manner, some swans fall victim to vandalism. Up to half of all nests in one study area failed, even before hatching, because of human persecution. Surviving cygnets can remain with parents for almost one year.
Why February 24th the luckiest day of the year
February might feel a miserable month – long after the festivities of Christmas and not much to celebrate in terms of spring cheer. In Old English it was known as “Mud Month” or “Cabbage Month” (the only vegetable still growing at this time of year).
However, despite its reduced complement of days, February24th has long been heralded as the luckiest day of the year, when all manner of good things can happen.
February 24th prestigious status is believed to stem from being the feast day Saint Matthias – the lucky apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.
High on Orrest Head
In 1930, the then 23-year-old Alfred Wainwright stepped off a train at Windermere Station, having travelled from his home town of Blackburn in Lancashire. This was his first visit to the Lake District. Immediately after leaving the station, young Alfred took the rough path that climbed to the nearest high ground north, bagging his first summit, Orrest Head.
Otter on Mull
The European otter, or lutra lutra (scientific name), is a carniverous mammal of the Mustelidae family (mustelid). There are seven species of mustelid living in the wild in the UK, each varying widely in looks and behaviour. Generally speaking mustelids are long-bodied, short-legged, thickly furred and tend to be active at night, which makes them elusive.
Minkes visit the North Yorkshire coast in August to feed on herring, and while they may not breach in the style of exuberant humpbacks, to be surrounded by six or seven for several hours is unforgettable. Extend your wildlife adventure with a nightjar safari or some spectacular gannet action at Bempton Cliffs.
On the western coast of the Scottish island of Mull, beneath the brooding volcanic massif of mighty Ben More, lies one of the wildest environments in the British Isles. The Ardmeanach Peninsula is a six-mile stretch of headland known simply as ‘The Wilderness’. It’s a fitting description of this trackless terrain characterised by deserted beaches, sparse coastal undercliffs and stunted trees beneath stark basalt terraces.
The intricate passageways and stalactite-hung caverns of the Marble Arch Caves are just one of the geopark’s many features. Surrounding this subterranean world are drumlins and snaking rivers, upland blanket bog and the imposing 655m-high Cuilcagh Mountain.
Month of the frog
Did you know, the earliest frogspawn recorded by Nature’s Calendar (which records seasonal events to keep track of climate change) was spotted on 1 November 2004. A mild February is a good month to check the garden pond to see if your local amphibians have been active, especially in the south-west of England.
All along the Pennines the effect of ice is evident, not least at the hauntingly beautiful serrated edges at Wimberry Stones high above Dove Stone Reservoir. The line of stone edges strikes north as Dove Stone Rocks; splintered cliffs and gullies where ravens and peregrines scavenge and hunt above lakes secluded in the gouge of Greenfield Brook. Here at Raven Stones Brow, spectacular crags challenge climbers, none more so than the unique, three-pronged Trinnacle (pictured), a monolith that wouldn’t seem out of place in the iconic Monument Valley in Utah, USA.
The spectacular mountain scenery of Skye is associated with fossil-free basalt but, around its coast there are tidal platforms of sedimentary rock where traces of the island’s Jurassic past have been found. At Staffin (pictured), Duntulm and Brother’s Point on the island’s north-eastern coast, clear imprints left by dinosaurs some 170 million years ago are revealed by the retreating tide.
In search of Golitha Falls
We took at look at how to improve your health and fitness, while making new friends, by joining a walking group. Our guide on walking groups looks at the many benefits of walking with others and how to find and join a walking group in your local area.