By Louise Barnetson
It's been quite a cold winter and as we move into March - and 'meteorological spring' - it seems like winter isn't quite ready to let go just yet. However, whilst we've been out and about with our volunteers over the past few weeks we have spotted a few signs that real Spring may be just around the corner.
We've noticed the early flowers such as the wild Primroses, Native Daffodils, Snowdrops, Colt's-foot, Lesser Celandine and Marsh Marigold, as well as the early-flowering trees such as the Blackthorn with its plumes of white blossom.
You may have noticed that many of these early flowering plants have yellow or white flowers. It is thought that these plants have evolved to be particularly bright and attractive to pollinators at this time of year, when light levels may still be low, and pollinating insects may still be few and far between. The bright yellows and whites really do seem to pop!
We have spotted a few queen bumblebees bumbling around, as well as some honey-bees. Queen bumblebees are starting to emerge from their long hibernation and these early-flowering native plants are vital to them at this time of year.
Above: working amidst the snowdrops at West Wittering.
We continue our regular work parties throughout February and March, taking care of local wildlife hotspots, although we wind back our vegetation clearance work as the bird nesting season commences.
Our brilliant volunteers have been busy clearing a ditch next to Birdham Primary School with the help of a team from the RSPB, cutting back willow and bramble and improving floral biodiversity at a West Wittering wetland site and at Haydons Pond in Almodington, and improving the woodchip path at Triangle Pond in Birdham to get it ready for visitors to enjoy in the Spring and Summer.
Above: Can you spot the bumblebee enjoying the Blackthorn blossom? Blackthorn is a great source of both pollen and nectar for emerging queen bumblebees.
Above: Volunteers improving Haydon's Pond, Almodington in early-February.
Above: Volunteers working their way through the woodchip mountain to improve the path at Triangle Pond, Birdham, in early-March.
Above: With a little help from our friends. This brilliant RSPB team helped us out at Birdham in February.
Other signs of Spring we've been enjoying is the increased bird activity and bird song. December and January can seem fairly quiet when it comes to bird song, but the longer days from mid-January and into February and March trigger birds to start singing again. Birds sing primarily to establish and defend territory, and attract mates, so it's good to start early to bag the best sites and maximise chances of breeding success. The main bird breeding season starts in March, but you may have seen some birds start to build nests already or popping in and out of nest-boxes looking for 'prime real estate'!
We've been busy putting up bird boxes and bat boxes at many sites to improve their potential value to wildlife. Many of these boxes had been made by children from the 1st Birdham & Wittering Scout Group and the 1st East Wittering Girl Guide Group last year, and painted by students from Seaford College. Other boxes had been donated to us. Cavity-nesting birds such as Blue Tits and Great Tits readily nest in artificial nest boxes, and many bat species such as Common Pipistrelles and Soprano Pipistrelles will use bat boxes. Bat boxes are artificial roosts designed to provide bats with alternative resting places. Bats will start emerging from hibernation in March and April.
The number of natural cavities for bird and bats to utilise have reduced over time as there are fewer very old trees, old buildings have been replaced or modernised, and nesting and roosting sites have been destroyed or disturbed by human activity. Why not put up a bird box or bat box in your garden? The Bat Conservation Trust is an excellent source of information about bats and bat boxes, and the RSPB has plenty of information about how you can help provide nesting sites for birds.
Above: Back in December we carried out repairs to some of our owl boxes with the help of local expert, Paul Stevens. We'll be keeping an eye on the boxes to see if any owls show an interest this breeding season.
With the breeding season upon us, we'll be leaving the sites we work on for the wildlife to enjoy throughout the Spring and Summer. The birds will be busy nesting, the Water Voles will become more active, the bumblebees will continue to emerge from hibernation - as will the amphibians, reptiles, many mammal and butterfly species - and more of the wildflowers and tree blossom will soon be out for us and wildlife to enjoy. However, our activities will not stop - survey season will soon be upon us. If you'd like to volunteer but don't fancy the more physical, manual, work then surveying is a great way to get involved.
We'd love your help to survey our sites through the Spring and Summer - you don't need to be an expert and you'll get to see some hidden treasures across the Manhood Peninsula - please sign up as a volunteer and you'll get all the information via email: https://www.mwhg.org.uk/volunteer