Best of the British countryside in March

From bottlenose dolphins to fighting coots, here is a selection of the month's best photos from around the British countryside in March.

Small bird and blossom

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 bird bolster the resident populations.

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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 2021 issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

Celebrate the month ahead with our photo gallery of beautiful photographs from around the UK countryside in March.


Spring island

Spring trees and grassland above sea
An elder tree overlooking Sandown Bay, Isle of Wight/Credit: Alamy

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.


West Tanfield

Village by a river
West Tanfield may have got its name from the Old English tāna feld, meaning ‘open land where young shoots grow’/Credit: Alamy

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.


Blue throat

Small bird in field of flowers
Bluethroats are very rare passage migrants sometimes seen along the east coast of the British Isles in spring – check birdwatching sites for recent sightings/Credit: Alamy

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. 


Aberlady Bay

coast and mountains
Aberlady Bay lies east of Scotland’s captial/Credit: Alamy

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. 


Chiffchaff bloom

Small bird and blossom
Chiffchaff foraging between the blossom of Blackthorn/Credit: Alamy

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.

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

York's Shambles
The Historic 14th century Shambles at night, city of York, North Yorkshire/Credit: Alamy

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.


Bottlenose dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth, Scotland
Bottlenose dolphins breaching in the waters of the Moray Firth/Credit: Alamy

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

Kilt Rock waterfall, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Kilt Rock waterfall, Isle of Skye, Scotland/Credit: Alamy

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. 


Fighting coots

Coots
Coots fighting in early spring/Credit: Getty

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

Tobermory harbour at sunrise, Mull
Tobermory harbour at sunrise, Mull/Alamy

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. 

See our guide to Scotland’s islands


Crinan Canal, Argyll and Bute

A Sailing vessel approaching one of the locks on Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan in Argyll and Bute
A Sailing vessel approaching one of the locks on Crinan Canal at Cairnbaan in Argyll and Bute/Credit: Alamy

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 near Boat of Garten, Cairngorms
The River Spey near Boat of Garten in the Cairngorms/Credit: Alamy

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.

Discover Britain’s most beautiful rivers


Hazel catkins

hazel catkins
Corkscrew hazel catkins releasing pollen/Credit: Getty

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

Pied flycatcher
European pied flycatcher with an insect in its beak/Credit: Getty

In spring, birds such as the pied flycatcher gather insects to feed themselves and their growing broods.

Garden bird guide: how to care for birds and what to feed different species


Great crested newt

Great crested newt male
Great crested newt male/Credit: Alamy

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.

Guide to Britain’s amphibians, including native species and where they can be found


Dartmoor Artisan Trail

Blacksmith Greg Abel, Dartmoor Artisan Trail
Blacksmith Greg Abel on the Dartmoor Artisan Trail/Credit: Suzy Bennett

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

Saddle Tor on Dartmoor
Sunrise at a hawthorn tree at Saddle Tor on Dartmoor/Credit: Getty

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.

Best walks in Dartmoor


Loch Ard Forest in Stirlingshire

Loch Ard Forest, Stirlingshire
Queen Elizabeth Forest Park covers 200 square kilometres and is home to Britain’s largest off-road cycle network/Credit: Alamy
Alamy

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

Singing Ringing Tree, Burnley, Lancashire
Singing Ringing Tree, Burnley, Lancashire/Credit: Getty

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

Warwick Castle gardens
Mill Garden just below the Caesars Tower of Warwick Castle in Warwick, a medieval county town of Warwickshire/Credit: Alamy

The work of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Warwick Castle’s 64 acres of stunning landscaped gardens are home to over 20 peacocks and peahens.

Visit a country garden this spring


Common toad reflection

Common toad
A wild common toad sitting on a mossy log/Credit: Alamy
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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.