Best of the British countryside in March
From fabulous toad eyes and leaping dolphins, to weird weather and fighting coots, here is a selection of the month's best photos from around the British countryside in March.
By March, evidence of spring can be found in abundance cross the British countryside. Flowers – such as daffodils, crocuses and snowdrops – fill the road verges and woodlands, trees begin to bud, and the dawn chorus fills the morning air, as migrant birds bolster the resident populations.
From blossoming trees and leaping dolphins to magical Scottish rivers and quaint Yorkshire towns, we’ve come across some amazing photography while putting together the March 2022 issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.
Celebrate the month ahead with our photo gallery of beautiful photographs from around the UK countryside in March.
In spring, the common toad’s shrunken appearance after hibernation “allows one to notice... that a toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly, it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet-rings,” wrote George Orwell in his 1946 essay.
RSPB Highnam Woods Nature Reserve is part of the largest area of ancient woodland in the Severn Vale, with a series of rides and glades, managed scrubland and piles of dead wood, making it a refuge for a wide range of fauna and flora. It is particularly special in spring when the melodies of birds fill the reserve.
If you’re lucky, you will hear the enchanting calls of the nightingale. The RSPB maintains a scrub and coppice habitat here for these woodland songsters, who return in April to nest and raise their young among the cuckooflowers, wood anemones and plentiful bluebells that shine atop the forest floor like starlight.
One of the most awe-inspiring clouds you can encounter is the roll cloud. This long, horizontal, rotating wall of darkness marks a boundary of dense and lighter air. As the air rises, it condenses into a rapidly rotating cylinder of thick, dark cloud.
From a distance, the roll cloud appears to be moving at walking pace, but as it gets closer to you, the sky rapidly descends into darkness, sometimes accompanied by gusty winds, heavy rain and hail.
Found in and around the big seabird colonies but nests at the tops of cliffs in rabbit burrows on grassland. Bill only takes on its rainbow colours during the breeding season. Over 500,000 pairs breed in the UK.
On the Isle of Wight, spring can appear out of the blue: a clear day with warm southerly winds may push the first show-stopping migrants across the Channel. These include thousands of swallows, house martins and sand martins returning from Africa to breed, timing their arrival with the explosion in the population of insects – triggered by the warm weather – on which to feed themselves and their voracious chicks.
One of the very first places to welcome spring arrivals to the UK is the high downs that bunch together in the south-east corner of the Isle of Wight (pictured). This is where the chalk spine of downlands that crosses the island finally runs out of steam and collapses into a heap of undulating ridges. Extremely easy on the eye, these fall away precipitously into a series of concentric punchbowl valleys.
Outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Lower Wensleydale offers peaceful walking enhanced by early spring wildflowers and birdsong.
West Tanfield sits at the eastern end of the dale alongside the River Ure, where a graceful arched stone bridge spans the water. The 15th-century Marmion Tower sits squarely next to the older church of St Nicholas. Now in the care of English Heritage, Marmion Tower is three storeys tall, features a beautiful oriel window and was once the imposing gatehouse to a long-vanished riverside manor house.
Glancing up between Edinburgh's city buildings, a scraggly flock of pink-footed geese flies north, marking the end of an Edinburgh winter. As spring unfolds, the last winter visitors linger on: waxwings feast on tree-top berries, whooper swans patrol the lochs and white-winged gulls scour the beaches.
Then the spring migrants begin to trickle in – if you're lucky, you may even spot a bluethroats – very rare passage migrants sometimes seen along the east coast of the British Isles. It’s a time of much excitement, when a day of birding can conjure the unexpected and the city’s nature reserves really shine.
Further afield, East Lothian presents exciting coastal birding. As the terns, gannets and other seabirds return, spring gems turn up in the coastal scrub, including redstarts, whinchats and the occasional bluethroat. Snow buntings and water pipits linger on the beaches and Aberlady Bay is blanketed with waders at high tide.
Come early spring, leaves and buds are bursting, invertebrates are multiplying, new flowers appear every day, rolling out white, yellow or blue carpets. Already the resident birds have been in full song for weeks. They have territories and most are already paired. Warm spring weather releases teeming invertebrates to provide most of the new arrivals with plenty to eat. The woods and hedgerows await.
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Once the spring migrants do arrive, they tend to breeze in. The first brave chiffchaff (pictured) may seem to haunt the willow blossom meekly but it is a bird on a mission. The pioneers are in a hurry, with just one thing on their minds: they must get settled as soon as possible and establish a territory.
York Shambles, North Yorkshire
In March, urban exploration can be more appealing than wild wanders. This winding cobbled street with overhanging wood-beamed buildings dating from the 1300s is York’s Shambles. Now a tourist hotspot, it was once the street of butchers. Shambles is thought to come from the Saxon word ‘shammel’, the shelves of the open shopfronts.
These large, powerful dolphins are seen year-round from the west coast and two resident pods inhabit the Inner Hebrides. Muscular and acrobatic and often put on a show for observers.
Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye
Escape the tourist traps and head to the northern tip of Skye where a thundering waterfall plunges over the vertical cliffs of Kilt Rock into the sea below. If you can tear your eyes from the views of a seemingly infinite horizon crowded with mountains, find a sheltered spot and scan the vast seascapes for a dark fin, splash or a ‘blow’ out in The Minch.
It may be the far edge of winter but waterbirds are getting restless. While many ducks and geese depart for northern climes to breed, resident coots are becoming querulous, scrapping noisily among themselves as the urge to breed rises. With wings flapping madly, rival males dash at each other, brandishing their lobed feet as rather clumsy weapons. The stronger and more determined may win himself a mate.
Tobermory, Isle of Mull
The Whale Trail visitor centre is on the promenade in the bustling port of Tobermory (pictured), where visitors can find out about the latest sightings and tap into the expert knowledge of Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust volunteers. Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse is a short walk from the harbour. Look out for dolphins on the crossing from Oban, especially between the tip of Lismore and Duart Castle.
Crinan Canal, Argyll and Bute
One of the finest cycles in Britain follows the Crinan Canal, once an important shipping shortcut on the west coast of Scotland.
River Spey, Highland
The River Spey is one of three significant rivers to pass through the Cairngorms National Park; the other two are the Dee and the Don.
As March, which often ‘enters like a lion but leaves like a lamb’, draws to a close, the display of hazel catkins has reached its peak. Gently tap a branch on a still, warm afternoon to set free a cloud of yellow pollen that hangs in the air for a moment, then vanishes, like will-o’-the-wisp.
Pied flycatcher on the hunt
In spring, birds such as the pied flycatcher gather insects to feed themselves and their growing broods.
Great crested newt
Male great crested newts have a ‘dragon’ crest along the length of the body that becomes more pronounced in the breeding season. Males have a white flash on the tale; the female’s is yellow. Widespread but declining rapidly due to habitat loss.
Dartmoor Artisan Trail
A 150-year-old Victorian forge can be found in the heart of Dartmoor, where blacksmith Greg Abel continues the tradition of hot forging. After visiting the forge to commission a curtain pole for a renovation project, photographer and Dartmoor Artisan Trail founder Suzy Bennett was inspired to photograph local artisans for an exhibition, which then developed to become the Dartmoor Artisan Trail.
Saddle Tor in Dartmoor
They may not be as colossal as the red rocks of Arizona but Dartmoor’s lonely granite tors have won global fame for their rugged charisma.
Loch Ard Forest in Stirlingshire
The great Loch Ard Forest extends west from the attractive village of Aberfoyle towards the rugged hills beside Loch Lomond. It is something of a hidden treasure, boasting no less than 17 different species of conifer alongside remnants of ancient oaks. Wildlife includes red and roe deer, pine martens, otters, red squirrels and reintroduced water voles.
Singing Ringing Tree in Lancashire
High above Lancashire’s Calder Valley a curious, eye-catching structure erupts from the derelict fieldscapes at the moorland edge: the remarkable Singing Ringing Tree.
Warwick Castle gardens in Warwickshire
The work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Warwick Castle’s 64 acres of stunning landscaped gardens are home to over 20 peacocks and peahens.
Common toad reflection
The common toad is warty and rough-skinned compared to the smooth skin of the common frog. Found throughout Britain (absent from Ireland) but prefers deeper water in lakes and ponds, where it lays strings of eggs. The black tadpoles tend to swim in shoals.