Cowslip-covered field near Pishill in the Chiltern Hills

Snakeshead Fritillaries growing in swathes on Iffley Meadows

I your eyes are open, the English springtime can be quite spectacular, especially when the sun shines as it is this year. Our weather is in complete contrast to last year when April was cold and wet and somehow joyless: in fact it resulted in greatly reduced butterflies through the summer, especially in the south and east. After a week of solid sunshine you can almost year the trees bursting into leaf and everywhere you look, wildflowers are blooming. I live just to the west of the Chiltern Hills (see Chiltern Landscapes) between Thame and Aylesbury and spend a lot of time exploring the nature reserves (BBOWT and Chiltern Society mostly) and corners that I know seeking out scenery and wildlife as it changes through the year.

The Chiltern Hills are best known for the fantastic displays of bluebells that emerge each April, carpeting the floors of the beech woods and contrasting beautifully with the delicate young beech tree leaves. However, just above the small village of Pishill there is a field with a small brick ruin next to a farm, and each year it becomes completely covered in Cowslips (Primula veris) which looks particularly amazing as it is on an upward slope. I took these pictures on last Friday, April 7th.

Another, better known, annual spectacle is on Iffley Meadows Nature Reserve (BBOWT) on the River Thames on the edge of Oxford. This large damp watermeadow becomes covered in thousands of Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris), usually around the middle of April. However this year the bloom is a week early and truly lovely in the bright sunshine.

We normally look out for the bluebells from the last week or two of April, but this year they have been coming into flower for a week already and the warm weather will have accelarated that, so there could well be great carpets of blue for everyone to enjoy over the Easter weekend.

The weather forecast is quite moderate, though continuing dry, so I hope that a good start to the season will continue and the butterflies will have a chance to recover their numbers. I have seen a couple of Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines), a few undersized Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae) and one or two Brimstone Butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) but will be on the lookout for a lot more as the pupae of the early butterflies emerge into adults. Of course a prolonged late spring period of cold wet weather could still happen – fingers crossed!

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