CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Devon Life today CLICK HERE

Have you seen these five wildlife signs of spring in Devon this March?

PUBLISHED: 09:07 08 March 2016 | UPDATED: 15:47 08 March 2016

Tom Rhys Williams with wild garlic leaves

Tom Rhys Williams with wild garlic leaves


March hares, wild garlic and bumblebees are on Tom Rhys Williams’ list of things top watch out for this month

With such a warm start to the year, it was easy to imagine that we may be in shorts and T-shirts by now, enjoying a picnic in the March sunshine. But it rarely happens like that.

More often than not, a mild January is followed by an icy February and the chill that has dominated early March has kept the short trousers folded at the back of the drawer. All in all, we are more or less back where we should be in nature’s calendar.

March is a beautiful month full of promise and expectation and the sun on your back starts to deliver genuine warmth. If you are lucky enough to be exploring Devon’s beautiful landscape this month, look out for these five March classics.

Wild garlic can be used in saladsWild garlic can be used in salads

Queen bumblebees

Queen bumblebees will have spent the winter hibernating below the ground. If they selected a safe spot and have been fortunate enough to avoid the jaws of a hungry wood mouse, they will be emerging in March. One of the first species out will be the buff-tailed bumblebee.

The queens are much larger than the workers they produce in early summer and their buzzing is loud enough to hear at a distance. It is a wonder how such a large fuzzy ball with relatively small wings can fly. Some have even questioned whether it should be possible but this has always struck be as a pointless pass time. It is possible! Just like any hibernating species, a priority for them will be nourishment and this brings me nicely onto my next item.

Pussy Willows

Pussy Willows are the flowers of the willow tree. Not only do they look great, they feel great. A young immature flower is furry and soft and feels just like one of those little brushes that people use to apply eye make up. I can’t profess to be an expert here but you spot these things around the house! They offer a massive hit of nectar and pollen to a multitude of flying insects. If you bring one to your nose and smell it, the sickly perfume indicates just how much sugar it within. Many of us marvel at violets and primrose at this time of year but it’s these unassuming fuzzy flowers that really deliver the goods on the scale required. On a warm day, stand below a willow tree and listen to the buzzing above. Look up and you may see a peacock butterfly or two.


Watch out for pussy willowWatch out for pussy willow

Whilst taking in the buzz of a willow tree, you may well hear a chiffchaff. The chiffchaff is a small bird belonging to the warbler family. It is migratory and most will currently be making their way back north. However, an increasing minority have started to brave the stormier but milder UK winters. The bird is fairly plain and could easily be referred to as a LBJ (little brown jobby) by the heathens that do not know any better but it’s the chiffchaff’s call that makes it a star for me.

The name is onomatopoeic after it’s punchy repetitive song that rings out throughout spring and summer; ‘chiff–chaff chiff–chaff chiff–chaff.’ It will always be my true harbinger of spring and when I hear this, I expect to smell cut grass, have daylight to enjoy after work and celebrate England winning the Six Nations - two out of three won’t be bad.


Ransoms is a plant that is often detected by the nose before the eyes. It’s alternatively known as wild garlic and with this name it’s easier to understand why. Like the snowdrops that light up February and the bluebells that charm us in April and May, wild garlic is a plant that emerges from a bulb below damp woodland soils.

In early March, the leaves are present and the flowering bud is just a pea sized swelling but come the end of the month and into April, a hemisphere of dainty white flowers will be on display. When you come across a dense swathe of these, their effect is every bit as stunning as the bluebells. They have the added benefit of being edible. The young leaves are fantastic to add into a salad and if you really want to impress the flowers can be sprinkled in too.

Brown hare

My last paragraph had to be saved for the brown hare. How could I not call upon the animal so commonly referred to at this time as the ‘mad March hare?’ I have heard people question whether they would be able to differentiate them from rabbits but once you have seen a couple of hares it’s easy enough. They are much larger with longer, broader, black tipped ears and bulbous eyes.

Their back legs seem so gangly and tucked up that their motion is slightly awkward at an amble but there is nothing awkward about them when they decide to use those legs to their potential.

They can explode into a sprint that is devastatingly powerful. It’s this that is their defence. They do not bolt to underground burrows when threatened as a rabbit does. They just vanish into the distance. They earn the phrase, ‘mad March hare’, with their mating behaviour. As they leap and box, people often assume they are watching fighting males but this behaviour is generally females fighting off unwelcome mating advances.

Tom Williams is a naturalist living on the north Devon coast just outside of Barnstaple. When he’s not working as a veterinary surgeon, he’s exploring the stunning Devon countryside on his doorstep.

More from Out & About

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is particularly stunning at this time of year and so we’ve picked out 18 stunning pictures that encapsulate the county during the festive period

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

From cosy pubs galore to winter beach walks, there’s plenty to enjoy in Devon at Christmas. We list 19 reasons you should come visit us this December.

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Devon is a joy to explore with its beautiful beaches, pretty woodland and charming towns and villages. Made even more magical under a blanket of glistening frost, we pick 12 walks to blow away the cobwebs in the county this winter

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A South Devon walk along a wreck-rich coastline with SIMONE STANBROOK-BYRNE

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

In the latest of our 24-hour tours of Devon’s best locations, we head to Britain’s Ocean City

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

With breathtaking beaches, rolling countryside, stately homes and unique villages, it’s no wonder high-profile film productions flock to Devon - how well do you know the movies that have set up camp here however?

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Whether it’s on our beautiful beaches, in our magnificent moors or within our stunning stately homes, film productions are constantly setting up in Devon. Here are 16 that you might not know used the county as a filming location

Read more
Friday, October 26, 2018

From angry spirits to headless horses and ghoulish monks, Devon has more than a few supernatural stories to get your skin crawling. We have picked 11 haunted places in the county

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

October is the perfect time to discover the joys of Exmoor. Jennette Baxter of Visit Exmoor suggests five great ways to enjoy autumn on the moor

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Wild camping can be one of the best ways to escape the crowds for a night or two and lose yourself in the landscape - SOPHIE PAVELLE chooses her five favourite places to ‘wild-life’ camp in Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From sandy beaches and lighthouse-topped cliffs to views of the Jurassic Coast, the Devon coastline offers many perfect locations for a seaside walk. We pick 10 of the prettiest routes to take

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Take our quiz to find out how well you really know Devon

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the weather starts to warm up and the Devon countryside beckons, LIZZIE JANE of the National Trust in the South West offers plenty of walk ideas for you to try. Whether you want a relaxed Sunday stroll or a more strenuous hike, here are 10 walks across Devon (and beyond) to help you escape the crowds and head off the beaten track

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The South West Coast Path is celebrating 40 years by calling on people to help raise £40,000. To show their support, teams from Devon’s top tourist attractions are preparing to take to the trail. CHRISSY HARRIS finds out more

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search