I am fairly certain it was the painter Eric Ennion who said that spring came to Breckland via its river valleys, describing how the first flush of green reached these riverside habitats long before it touched the open warrens and heaths. Ennion would have known; having spent many hours wandering the brecks and fens and sketching its wildlife he would have been in touch with the shifting seasons.
Now, in the first few days of spring, you can understand this sense of restricted emergence; flowering and bud burst are evident along the Thet and the Little Ouse but the open heaths and clear-fell continue to be brushed with overnight frosts that leave the long dead stems of last year’s growth erect and white. As a strengthening sun warms the land, so you sense that spring spreads out from the shelter of the river valleys to claim temporary hold on the surrounding land. The first Brimstone, the first buzzing queen bumblebee and the growing chorus of bird song that shapes the transition from slumber to reawakening. But as the sun slips back towards the horizon, the clear skies let that weak warmth steal away and the overnight frost return.
The still, bright days are uplifting, delivering a sense of optimism and joy, the dark days of winter now well behind us and a season of warmth and new life just ahead. The false starts of early March are gone and it seems certain now that it can only get warmer and brighter and more green with every passing day. Other inhabitants of Breckland have sensed the change as well; the cries of Lapwing and Curlew ring out from neighbouring fields and Brown Hares can be seen chasing one another, the females turning to beat away over amorous suitors and striking a pose worthy of any pugilist. There is a sense of expectation in the air and a feeling that things will now pick up pace in the scramble to make the most of the emerging opportunities that extra warmth and light provide.
The forest, however, seems to hold back the arrival of spring. The dark ranks of conifers remain brooding, their green no brighter than it was under the winter sun, and it is only the growing chorus of bird song that marks the changing season in this regimented, reluctant habitat. Many of the flowers that I associate with the forest will not flower until late in the summer and there are few broad-leaved trees to signal through a flush of new growth that things have changed. For now I will stick to the river valleys and leave the forest until later in the year, when it is claimed by summer migrants and blooms.